In order for skeletal muscle to contract, signals alert the muscle cells to release calcium from their internal stores. The skeletal muscle ryanodine receptor (RyR1) acts as the essential gatekeeper for these calcium pools. A single mutation within a person’s RyR1 can result in an unpredictable and life-threatening complication called malignant hyperthermia (MH).
MH is a disease that causes uncontrolled muscle contraction and an extreme increase in body temperature when exposed to general anesthetics. While our understanding of RyR1 is improving, there is still much to learn about the relationship between the protein’s structure and how small molecules like anesthetics alter the channel’s activity.
Dr. Woll’s research will look to identify the binding sites for anesthetics within normal and MH mutant RyR1 in order to determine and compare the interactions and their consequences. To accomplish this, she will employ photoactive analogs of the anesthetics to identify binding sites within both RyR1s and determine the impact of binding on the ion channel’s conformation using cryo-electron microscopy.
Ultimately, this research will provide a strategy for the advancement of scientific methods, further define the transitions that occur within RyR1, and determine how anesthetics impact the channel’s function.