Research Fellows Directory
Professor Alistair Mathie
University of Kent at Canterbury
Nerve cells (neurons) use electrical signals to convey information quickly, over long distances, both to and from the brain and within the central nervous system (CNS) itself. The key players which enable this to occur are membrane spanning proteins called ion channels. Pain signals are detected by certain neurons (primary sensory neurons) which use a variety of ion channels to help transmit this information to the CNS. Existing pain-relieving drugs, from aspirin to morphine, are good, but they often don’t alleviate pain completely and, in certain situations, such as neuropathic pain, don’t work very well at all. Furthermore, each has the potential for associated problems, particularly if used chronically.
Ion channels such as potassium channels act as molecular “switches? whereby their opening and closing underlies the basis of electrical activity in the human body. Understanding how such potassium channels function at the molecular level is therefore of extreme interest, not only to further our understanding of how they contribute to cellular function in the healthy organism, but also because their dysfunction results in a number of diseases. Together with colleagues at Oxford and at Pfizer, my group studies a particular class of potassium channel involved in the electrical activity of neurones which transmit the sensation of pain to the brain. We believe that by understanding the relationship between ion channel structure and function, we can identify new targets to allow the rational design of novel therapeutic strategies to help alleviate pain, particularly that which is resistant to the existing pain killers described above.
Interests and expertise (Subject groups)