The lab is broadly interested in the molecular basis of behavior, and I have spent much of my career uncovering details of the mechanisms of activation of ion channels, especially at the single channel level. Ion channels are proteins that span cell membranes and contain a central pore that when open, allows the passage of charged ions either into or out of the cell. The movement of these ions generates a current, which in turn can alter the membrane potential (voltage) of the cell, and these voltage changes are the basis of electrical signaling in the nervous system. The opening and closing of many different ion channels can be driven by the binding of neurotransmitters to the ion channel, or by changes in membrane voltage. My ion channel work to date has involved nicotinic acetylcholine receptors involved in signaling skeletal muscle contraction, calcium-activated potassium channels involved in smooth muscle contraction and setting circadian rhythms, and glutamate receptors involved in excitatory signaling in the brain and in learning and memory.
More recently I have begun to utilize sea urchins as an experimental organism. Surprisingly, given their rather simplistic outward appearance, sea urchins, and their relatives the sea stars are genetically much closer to vertebrates (including us!) than most other invertebrates. My lab has established sea urchin behavioral assays, protocols for the in vivo application of pharmacological agents, and cell isolation and recording protocols, with the aim of elucidating the electrical and biochemical steps that underlie sea urchin behavioral responses.