Protein found in both taste buds and inner ear
Otop1 is a gene that has been linked to balance and coordination and is also found in taste cells.
Functions in the body are commonly interconnected, but many of them often have unusual connective networks. Recently researchers at the University of Southern California (USC) Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences discovered that cells responsible for detecting sour foods are functionally connected to the vestibular system in the ear.
The researchers stumbled upon a new family of ion channels, known as the otopetrin family of genes, that linked these two systems together.
Ion channels play an important role in the body. In short, they are membrane proteins that allow for specific ions to pass through, thereby creating an action potential — or electrical impulse — to be sent across the cell membrane.
These action potentials happen on an all-or-none basis, kind of like flipping a light switch. They either occur fully or not at all. Action potentials take place when a stimulus temporarily causes a shift in the neuron’s membrane potential due to a sudden movements of ions moving in and out of a neuron.
At resting potential, the inside of the neuron is negative compared to the outside because of the large amount of positive sodium ions present on the outside. When the sodium ion channels open, an influx of sodium ions rush into the neuron. If the depolarizing current reaches the threshold level, an action potential occurs.
In 2010, Emily Liman, a professor of biological sciences at USC Dornsife, showed that a specific proton channel was responsible for the cells that detect sour taste. However, the genes responsible for expressing this proton channel were unknown at that time.