Heads of Laboratories
Electrical signals play many roles in the body. They control the pace of the heart, regulate the secretion of hormones into the bloodstream and transfer information from one cell to the next in the nervous system. Dr. MacKinnon’s research is aimed at understanding the physical and chemical principles underlying electricity in biology, particularly the passage of inorganic ions, such as potassium and chloride, across cell membranes.
Cells produce electrical signals using membrane proteins known as ion channels. These proteins catalyze the diffusion of inorganic ions down their electrochemical gradients across cell membranes. Because the diffusion is passive, ion channels would seem to be extraordinarily simple physical systems, and yet their remarkable properties enable the elaborate electrical machinery of life.
Ion channels, like enzymes, have specific substrates: Potassium, sodium, calcium and chloride channels permit only their namesake ions to diffuse through their pores. Work in the MacKinnon laboratory has been aimed at understanding the structure and function of potassium, chloride and other ion channels, including voltage-gated channels, which open in response to membrane voltage.
Dr. MacKinnon is a faculty member in the Tri-Institutional Ph.D. Program in Chemical Biology.
Dr. MacKinnon received his B.A. in biochemistry from Brandeis University and his M.D. from Tufts University School of Medicine. He completed his medical residency at Beth Israel Hospital, Harvard Medical School, and postdoctoral work at Brandeis. He joined the faculty at Harvard Medical School before moving to Rockefeller in 1996.
Dr. MacKinnon is a member of the National Academy of Sciences. He is the recipient of numerous scientific awards, including the 2003 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, the 2003 Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize, the 2001 Gairdner Foundation International Award, the 2001 Perl-UNC Neuroscience Prize, the 2000 Lewis S. Rosenstiel Award for Distinguished Work in Basic Medical Science and the 1999 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award.
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