Ion channels provide a pathway for diffusion of ions across the cell membrane. Voltage-gated potassium (Kv) channels, one of the main areas of interest in my laboratory, typically open in response to membrane depolarization to allow rapid efflux of potassium ions to repolarize the cell, thus ending the action potential. Kv channels are essential for electrical activity in tissues such as the brain, heart and skeletal muscle. Other types of potassium channels are relatively insensitive to membrane potential, and these are important both in excitable cells, and in nonexcitable cells. They provide a relatively constant repolarizing force in most cell types, regulate cell volume, and also maintain potassium gradients required for function of other ion transporters. We are particularly interested in understanding the role of voltage-independent potassium channels in polarized epithelial cells, which are present in various diverse tissue types, performing vital functions ranging from gastric acid secretion to thyroid hormone biosynthesis.
Abnormal functioning of potassium channels can cause human diseases including cardiac arrhythmia, epilepsy, myotonia, ataxia and periodic paralysis. In my lab we utilize a multidiscplinary approach to understanding the molecular basis for potassium channel function, how and why potassium channels dysfunction, and how this leads to human disease.
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