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This process, termed saltatory conduction, is dependent on the exact location of ion channels along the nerve. Ion channels are molecules that can open and close, transferring certain ions from the cell's interior to the extracellular space, or vice versa, thereby generating the nerve impulse. For the nerve impulse to "take off" and "land" properly along myelinated nerves, it appears that the sections between each myelin segment must contain sodium channels and, right alongside them, potassium channels. Any modification of this architectural plan may decrease the conduction efficacy of nerve impulses.
What determines the location of these channels? Dr. Elior Peles of the Weizmann Institute's Molecular Cell Biology Department has discovered a group of proteins that mediate the interactions between nerve cells and the glial cells that create the myelin sheaths. These unique proteins appear to play a crucial role in correctly positioning the ion channels along the nerve. His studies have important implications for better understanding the physiology of normal myelinated fibers, as well as the processes underlying demyelinating diseases, such as multiple sclerosis.
Dr. Elior Peles holds the Madeleine Haas Russell Career Development Chair and a Research Career Development Award from the Israel Cancer Research Fund. His research is currently supported by the Naftali Foundation for Biology and Medicine, the Minerva Stiftung Gesellschaft fur die Forschung m.b.H., the Crown Endowed Fund for Immunological Research, the Abisch-Frenkel Foundation, the United States-Israel Science Foundation (BSF), the American National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS), the Human Frontier Science Program, and the Dorot Foundation of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities.
"As a child, I used to take things apart to see what they were made of. Today, I basically do the same thing - but it costs a lot more."