Neurons convey information using electrical signals, and this process relies on a class of proteins embedded in the neuronal membrane called ion channels. Mutations in ion channel genes cause disease, and ion channels are important drug targets. Insight into ion channel structure and function is not only fundamental for a molecular understanding of the nervous system; it is also immediately relevant to human health.
Billions of years of evolution have led to a staggering array of ion channel diversity, with different ion channel types opening and closing in response to different stimuli. Ligand-gated ion channels open upon binding small chemical ligands.
Using a single-molecule technique called patch clamping, the dacosta]:[lab studies structure-function relationships in ligand-gated ion channels. Patch clamping gives unparalleled insight into ion channel mechanism, and allows one to monitor the real-time activity of individual channels as they function. The goal is to understand how these molecular machines work, so that their function can be controlled in order to alleviate disease.