CELLULAR HEALTH: Flippases, these membrane proteins that generate electrical current

Flippases are proteins in cell membranes that mediate the transfer of specific phospholipids or fats from one sheet to another sheet in the cell membrane. This displacement of lipid molecules in cell membranes requires an energy supply and induces an electric current. And this microcurrent could play a key role in controlling certain essential processes in the body and its health, suggests, this study from the University of Aarhus (Denmark).

This electric current, hitherto unknown, develops in the cells of the body precisely when the flippases mediate the transfer of lipids from the external layer to the internal layer of the cell membranes of the body. This electric current seems to be important for a whole range of other cellular mechanisms, as well as for human well-being and health. In any case, this is the conclusion of Professor Jens Peter Andersen of the Department of Biomedicine at the University of Aarhus and his team.

Why you shouldn’t underestimate flippases
Flippases are a very recent area of ​​research. We knew very little about flippases 15 years ago. More recently, Jens Peter Andersen’s team has studied a number of pathogenic mutations and has made an initial hypothesis on the appearance and functioning of flippases. Since then this hypothesis has been confirmed. “Nobody had ever considered that flippases could create electric current and thus affect the functioning of cells electrically. So this is a whole new field of knowledge and we hypothesize that via electric current, flippases also have an influence on many enzymes and biological processes, with skills important for health. “

Recent studies already document the key role of these proteins: in recent years, it has been documented, in particular, that

flippases in the liver help ensure the transport of bile, so that bile does not accumulate with negative effects on the liver;
dysfunctional flippases are linked to neurological diseases that can cause mental retardation and difficulty walking (eg, cerebellar ataxia, mental retardation and imbalance syndrome);
flippases could also be implicated in Alzheimer’s disease.

Functioning similar to that of ion pumps: a recent study by the same team on the functioning of amino acids in flippases, thus reveals striking similarities between flippases and ion pumps. While ion pumps transfer small ions, flippases transfer fat, but relatively large molecules. This finding encouraged the team to investigate whether flippases matter for the electrical potential of cell membranes in a similar fashion to ion pumps. Here, using an electrophysiological method based on solid-support membranes, the researchers observe and demonstrate the generation of a transient electric current during lipid transfer.

The next step will be to investigate how this ability of flippases to generate electrical current affects other cellular processes and functions, and how possible mutations in these flippases can displace electrical potential and cause disease.