To work properly, the cells in our body use carrier proteins to control the transport of ions, such as potassium, as well as metabolites and nutrients in and out across membranes. The family of solute carrier proteins is the largest class of membrane transporters, and some of its members have been associated with diseases, including diabetes, cancer and autism. Many researchers consider carrier proteins highly relevant targets for drugs, but this possibility has not been explored in detail.

Dr. Ming Zhou, the Ruth McLean Bowman Bowers Professor in the Verna and Marrs McLean department biochemistry and molecular biology at Baylor College of Medicine, is a featured speaker in the upcoming  symposium “Solute Carrier Proteins: Unlocking the Gene-Family for Effective Therapies.”

The event, presented by the Biochemical Pharmacology Discussion Group at the New York Academy of Sciences, aspires to bring more attention to solute carrier proteins. The symposium will highlight recent advances in the field, both in terms of relevance to drug development and understanding of mechanisms of the transporters, and will bring together investigators from both academia and industry to promote exchange of ideas and collaborations.

Zhou will present a talk about one of his research interests related to the topic, “Mechanism of substrate binding and translocation in sodium-dependent bile acid transporters.”

Bile acids, also called bile salts, are important metabolites synthesized in the liver from cholesterol. Bile salts are stored in the gallbladder and, after each meal, several grams are released from the gallbladder into the digestive tract to facilitate absorption of fat and certain vitamins. At the end of the digestive tract in the terminal ileum, more than 90 percent of the bile salts are reabsorbed and sent back to the liver and then the gallbladder. This, the enterohepatic circulation of bile salts, is a very efficient process so that each day, only a small amount of bile acid is synthesized to replenish the pool.

“The reabsorption of bile salts at the terminal ileum is mediated by a solute carrier protein, the apical sodium-dependent bile acid transporter, or ASBT, which is a potential drug target for two reasons,” said Dr. Zhou. “Drugs that inhibit ASBT could reduce the amount of recycled bile acid and thus increase the consumption of cholesterol. In addition, drugs could be conjugated to a bile acid, forming a pro-drug that can be transported by ASBT for targeted delivery to the liver. Our research is aimed at understanding how ASBT interacts with its substrates and how substrates are transported from the extracellular side to the intracellular side.”

The symposium will also be an opportunity for experts in the field to discuss technologies to produce, characterize and research solute carrier proteins, including generating cell lines with functionally competent carrier proteins and strategies to unravel their structure and interaction with substrates.

The symposium will take place on April 26 at the New York Academy of Sciences, New York. More information and how to register in this symposium can be found here.