Our laboratory studies potassium channels which are key elements which control and shape electrical activity in the brain, heart, and other excitable tissues. These channels are major determinants of behavior and higher brain function. The potassium channels we study are involved in human disease (e.g. epilepsy, cardiac arrhythmia), basic physiology (e.g. control of blood pressure, protection from hypoxia), and higher brain function (e.g. learning and memory). Our approach is a comparative genomic one which involves comparing the structure and function of potassium channels in different species (e.g. humans, rodents, Drosophila and the nematode worm C. elegans). These comparisons have led us to many fundamental insights about the basic function, development, and regulation of potassium channels, and their role in behavior. The techniques we use in our laboratory include genetics and genomics, the creation and use of transgenic animals, molecular biology, and biophysical studies which include electrophysiological recordings of both native cells and heterologous cell systems which we use to express our cloned channels.
In general, ion channels are the major effector molecules through which neurotransmitters and many hormones act. Ion channels are the “transistors” (electronic switches) of the brain that generate and propagate electrical signals in the aqueous environment of the brain that resembles dilute seawater, a reflection of the evolutionary origin of the nervous system in the sea. Ion channels not only generate active electrical responses, but they set the resting potentials of cells, as well. Without them, life as we know it would not exist, much less higher brain function.