Ion Channels: Their Discovery and their Role in Pharmacology and Biomedicine
Affiliation: Max-Planck Institute for biophysical Chemistry, Göttingen
Keywords: Ion channels, bioelectricity, nerve impulse, membrane, Nobel laureate
The concept of bioelectricity emerged in the late 18th century, based on the experiments of Galvani and Volta. Sixty years ago Hodgkin and Huxley showed that the nerve impulse is a result of permeability changes of the nerve membrane. This provoked the question of what the molecular mechanisms of such permeability changes might be. In 1976, Bert Sakmann and myself were able to show that the so-called ion channels –proteins that gate ion fluxes across membranes- mediate these responses. Research over the last 40 years has shown that ion channels are not only present in electrically excitable cells, such as in nerves and muscles, but also in basically all cell types of our body, mediating a variety of physiological functions. We now know that they are prime drug targets and that dysfunction of ion channels underlies a variety of diseases.