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September 28, 2009. Following years of work, we have completed a chapter in an exciting program of research. In an article published today in the open access journal PLoS Biology, we report an exciting set of experiments. ((And by "we", I mean Lynne McAnelly, Philip Stoddard, Harold Zakon, and I)). We found that the electric fish, Sternopygus macrurus, increases its signal amplitude at night and in response to social encounters. In a series of experiments, we trace the causes of this amplitude increase down to its molecular cause: the insertion of additional ion channels into the membranes of the cells that produce the electric signal. We were honored that the journal asked Eric Fortune and Maurice Chacron to write a primer for this article. Their overview of the area was really an excellent job.
These findings provide a unique account of a system where changes in the trafficking of proteins into cell membranes has a direct and immediate effect on an ongoing behavior in real time. The delay between a relevant environmental stimulus and a change in the cell-surface proteins is only two or three minutes. These findings also lead to a number of new questions about the processes that regulate ion channel trafficking in excitable cells.
The article has received some very nice coverage in the press and in the blogosphere. Some examples of the popular media articles and blogs: