Congratulations to Dr. Yair Ben-Chaim, senior faculty member in the Department of Natural and Life Sciences, whose article, written in partnership with Dr. Moshe Parnas of the School of Medicine at Tel Aviv University has been published in the prestigious journal, Nature Communication
A significant part of the body’s external communication with its surroundings, and internal communication between different cells, takes place via receptors that receive chemical or physical stimuli, activating various cellular processes affecting our behavior. The most common family of receptors are those attached to G proteins, including light receptors (vision), taste, and smell, and also most of the neurotransmitters in the brain. The mechanism of these receptors has been extensively researched, due to their vital role as drug targets for medicines.
A few years ago, it was discovered that receptors are also affected by the electrical voltage on the cell’s surface. This finding raised questions as to their function vis a vis the body’s normal activity.
Dr. Yair Ben-Chaim and Dr. Moshe Parnas sought to answer this question. The study examined the receptor’s sensitivity to voltage as is expressed in the cells of fruit flies’ olfactory systems. First, a mutation was identified in the receptor that causes it to lose its sensitivity to electrical voltage. Second, a species of flies that carries this mutation was created by means of CRISPR technology. The influence of the mutation on neurotransmission in these cells and on the fly’s behavior was examined in tests that checked the ability to adapt to olfactory stimuli. It was discovered that the mutant flies behave differently from regular flies and that the learning capacity of the fly’s brain depends on the ability of the receptors to sense the electrical voltage. These findings are the first evidence that the ability of receptors to sense electrical voltage fulfills an important function in the normal activity of the nervous system.