Acetylcholinesterase is an enzyme responsible for the breakdown of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine from synapses. Your students will discover how three amino acids in the active site collaborate to cleave the neurotransmitter, demonstrate how an insecticide targets the enzymes in mosquitoes, and explore what happens when a mutation causes a variation in the enzyme structure that blocks the insecticide from binding. The acetylcholinesterase gene and the protein it encodes can be used to demonstrate a number of biological concepts including:

  • Enzyme specificity
  • Competitive inhibition
  • Effect of mutations on protein structure
  • How an insecticide did not cause the DNA mutation but rather acts as an agent of natural selection, resulting in the emergence of insecticide-resistant mosquitoes from a wild population

The substrate, insecticide and mutant amino acid side chain bind to the enzyme with magnets.

The 1936 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded jointly to Sir Henry Hallett Dale and Otto Loewi "for their discoveries relating to chemical transmission of nerve impulses". Sir Henry Hallett Dale discovered that acetylcholine is produced naturally in the body. By developing methods for extracting acetylcholine from animal tissues Dale and his colleagues carried out a series of experiments that revealed how the chemical works. 

The 5” model comes with acetylcholine, insecticide and a mutant side chain, which bind to the enzyme with magnets. It is made of plaster by rapid prototyping and should be handled with care. Models will break if dropped, held tightly or handled roughly. Its PDB file is 1QON.pdb.