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SciLifeLab seminar series-Campus Solna, Gail A. Robertson

Tuesday December 10 at 15:00

Gail A. Robertson,

Ph.D. Kellett Professor
Dept. of Neuroscience, University of Wisconsin SMPH-Madison, USA

Gail Robertson is a molecular biologist and biophysicist interested mechanisms controlling electrical excitability in the heart and brain. She received her PhD from Washington University in 1986 on studies of rhythmic motor pattern generation in the spinal cord. She carried out postdoctoral work cloning ion channel genes in Drosophila with Barry Ganetzky at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and started her own lab at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health in 1992. She is perhaps best known for work from her lab showing that cardiac IKr is produced by channels encoded by the hERG gene, and for first identifying hERG as the molecular target for acquired long QT syndrome. She was co-inventor of the hERG cell-based safety assay that helps reduce sudden cardiac death due to off-target effects of drugs indicated for a wide range of conditions. Robertson previously received the NSF CAREER Award and was an American Heart Association Established Investigator. She has served on numerous editorial boards and NIH review panels, and was Chair of the 2017 Gordon Research Conference on Cardiac Arrhythmia Mechanisms. Most recently, she received the 2019 Kenneth S. Cole Award in Membrane Biophysics from the Biophysical Society. She is currently Professor in the Department of Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

Title of the talk: How to build an action potential: mRNA complexes encode multiple ion channel types during biogenesis

The field has made great strides understanding how ion channels open and close, and how they select for one tiny ion, like potassium, over another, like sodium. A new frontier of ion channel biology is the question of how ion channels, which are often made up of multiple subunits, are formed. In one study we found that the mRNA transcripts encoding the two subunits that make up cardiac IKr channels are themselves associated in a way that ensures the nascent proteins, while they emerge from the protein-synthesizing machinery, interact with each other.

A bigger question is how the balance of ion channels is achieved to ensure an action potential of the right duration in the heart, or frequency of firing in the brain. There must be mechanisms at multiple levels contributing to this precise control, perturbation of which can lead to diseases such as catastrophic cardiac arrhythmias or epilepsy. We are currently examining mechanisms by which the numbers of different ion channel types, or the “stoichiometry of excitability,” is regulated during channel biogenesis as the proteins are synthesized. For these studies we are using innovative molecular biology approaches, single-molecule fluorescence of mRNA and protein, and patch clamp electrophysiology. My lecture will present the latest advances in this work.

Host: Lucie Delemotte

Read more about Gail A. Robertson´s research