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Linda Boland's Lab

Living cells are watery bags of chemicals surrounded by a membrane made of a double layer of lipids.  Ion channels are proteins that regulate the movement of ions from one side of the lipid bilayer to the other, thereby controlling the electrical activity of neurons.  A better understanding of how ion channels work is essential to understanding how the nervous system operates.

Our research interests are framed around two general themes. First, how is ion channel function modified by changes in the cellular environment? Specifically, we are investigating how bioactive lipids, derived from the cellular membrane itself, or naturally occurring steroid hormones, alter the function of voltage-gated ion channels. The ion channels do not work the same way all the time -- their function is dependent upon various endogenous modulators. We aim to understand how and why this interaction occurs, and determine the physiological significance of the changes in ion channel function. These changes impact nerve cell communication and processes such as learning and memory as well as the function of brain and heart in certain disease states. Second, we are interested in how ion channels in different life forms relate to one another, both structurally and physiologically. How did cellular excitability evolve and what molecular adaptations in ion channel structure and function were required to support electrical activity of cells and eventually allow the development of a nervous system? By studying ion channels cloned from the genome of sponges and jellyfish, we can better understand the evolutionary changes that have occurred in ion channel structure and function.

Current Projects

  • Physiological study of how membrane-derived phospholipids impact potassium ion channel function
  • Use of structural modeling and ligand docking simulations to predict fatty acid-Kv4 channel interaction sites
  • Use of site-directed mutagenesis to assess the structural determinants of lipid modification of channel function (fatty acids and PIP2)
  • Physiological study of novel ion channels cloned from a marine sponge; how multiple modalities act to gate K2P channel function

Current University of Richmond Research Students

  • Julian Butler (’17)
  • Bridgette Heine (’17)
  • Elizabeth Leggett (’15)
  • Austin Miller (’15)
  • Christian Scherer (’15)
  • Jacqueline Sinnott (’18)
  • Hannah Small (’18)
  • Erica Yamamoto (’15)

University of Richmond Graduates (Partial List)

  • Herberth Balsells (Iowa Osteopathic Medical School; medical resident)

  • Michelle Drzewiecki (VCU medical student)
Erin Fields (Tufts University Ph.D. Pharmacology program)
Sean Foster (Univ. Virginia Medical School; medical resident)

  • Jared Harrison (Virginia College of Osteopathic Medicine, Blacksburg VA)

  • Robert Heler (Rockefeller University Ph.D. program)
  • Gabriela Timoney (Temple University Medical School)