University of Cambridge > > Department of Biochemistry, Cambridge Science Festival Talks (2021) > Pores for thoughts: how do our nerve and muscle cells talk to each other?

Pores for thoughts: how do our nerve and muscle cells talk to each other?

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Our nerves and muscle cells talk to each other using a form of electrical signalling called the action potential. These signals underlie all our thoughts and feelings, conscious and unconscious; and they control the coordinated contraction of our heart and skeletal muscles. The signals are generated by molecular pores or channels that control the flow of positively charged sodium, potassium and calcium ions into and out of the cell.

Recently, it has become possible to examine these channels in atomic detail, giving us new insights into this fundamental mechanism.

In this talk, Dr Tony Jackson from the Department of Biochemistry will explain how the ‘voltage-gated sodium channel’, the ‘voltage-gated potassium channel’ and the ‘voltage-gated calcium channel’ act together to drive the action potential. Tony will also explain how the failure of these ion channels to function correctly may underlie a variety of different disease states, including chronic pain, heart disease and cancer. Finally, Tony will describe how drugs can be targeted to the ion channels for the treatment of these diseases. Perhaps surprisingly, one promising source of such drugs are molecules found in the venoms of poisonous spiders and scorpions.

The talk will be followed by a Q&A session.

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Tony Jackson works in the Department of Biochemistry on the heart-specific voltage-gated sodium channel, Nav1.5, and the pain-sensing voltage-gated sodium channel, Nav1.7.

This talk is part of the Department of Biochemistry, Cambridge Science Festival Talks (2021) series.

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