Gail Robertson

Position title: Professor


Phone: (608) 265-3339




Ph.D. in Neuroscience, Washington University-St. Louis

Research Description:

The ion channel field has made great strides understanding how channels open and close, and how they select for one tiny ion, like potassium, over another, like sodium. A new frontier 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 study 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. We use innovative molecular biology approaches, single-molecule fluorescence of mRNA and protein, and patch clamp electrophysiology. We have discovered complexes of mRNA encoding functionally related ion channels associated cotranslationally. The elements of these “microtranslatomes” represent novel targets and therapeutic approaches for ion channelopathies.

Key Words:

Membrane excitability, ion channelopathies, cardiac arrhythmia

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Link to Publications