Ion channels versus ion pumps: the principal difference, in principle. Academic Article uri icon


  • The incessant traffic of ions across cell membranes is controlled by two kinds of border guards: ion channels and ion pumps. Open channels let selected ions diffuse rapidly down electrical and concentration gradients, whereas ion pumps labour tirelessly to maintain the gradients by consuming energy to slowly move ions thermodynamically uphill. Because of the diametrically opposed tasks and the divergent speeds of channels and pumps, they have traditionally been viewed as completely different entities, as alike as chalk and cheese. But new structural and mechanistic information about both of these classes of molecular machines challenges this comfortable separation and forces its re-evaluation.

publication date

  • May 2009