Neurobiology, School of Biological Sciences, University of Texas, Austin, US
Harold Zakon (PhD, Cornell University; postdoctoral work at the University of California, San Diego) has been at the University of Texas since 1983 in the departments of Neuroscience and Integrative Biology. Using biophysical and molecular methods he studies the function, regulation, and evolution of voltage-gated sodium channels. Recent work includes the role of sodium channels in shaping the discharge of electric fish, the evolution of various sodium and other channels at the origin of the nervous system in multicellular animals, and evolution of resistance in sodium channels for protection in organisms that make neurotoxins for defense, or are preyed upon by predators with ion channel-targeting venoms. This year he is based in Germany as a recipient of a research award from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.
Voltage-gated sodium channels are the basis of the action potential in all animal nervous systems yet they are little studied in an evolutionary context. I will present two examples of adaptive evolution of sodium channels. The first shows how the dynamic trafficking of these channels underlies circadian changes in the electric organ discharge of electric fish for optimal energy efficiency. The second example shows how a wild mouse that preys on scorpions has evolved a sodium channel that is resistant to the venom of its scorpion prey. This channel has paradoxically evolved the ability to be blocked rather than excited by toxins in scorpion venom.
Host: Dan Larhammar
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