The title of a University of Utah press release nearly says it all, as particle physics and gastroenterology of round worms collide. Scientists at U of U discovered that individual protons are used by round worms as triggers to initiate muscle movement when they’re pooping. This is fascinating since hitherto known neurotransmitters (dopamine, serotonin, etc) are all large molecules.
Not only did the researchers show protons can act like neurotransmitters, they identified the genes and proteins involved in the process in round worms, which are about 1 millimeter (a 25th of an inch) long and also are known as nematodes.
Previous research indicated the brains of humans and mice also have proton pumps and receptors to move protons between cells. The new study raises the possibility those protons may be transmitting nerve signals in the brain, says Jorgensen and study co-author Wayne Davis, a research assistant professor of biology.
“This is the first time we have found protons acting as transmitters,” Davis says. “It could be that these processes occur in humans. There are proton pumps present in intestinal cells and in the brain of humans and mice. Some of the pumps are thought to make acid for the gut to digest food. But why are proton pumps in the brain?”
More in the press release: Proton Powered Pooping