Current Faculty of Molecular and Cellular Physiology

Axel Brunger (Department Chair)

Jointly appointed in Neurology & Neurological Sciences, Photon Science and, by courtesy, Structural Biology

We investigate the molecular mechanisms of synaptic neurotransmitter release by conducting single-molecule/particle reconstitution and imaging experiments, combined with high-resolution structural studies (by X-ray crystallography and electron cryo-microscopy) of the synaptic vesicle fusion machinery. Other interests include the development of advanced methods for biomolecular structure determination.

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Steven Chu

Jointly appointed in Physics

From January 2009 until April, 2013, Dr. Chu served as the 12th U.S. Secretary of Energy during President Obama's administration. Prior to his Cabinet post, he was the Director of Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, Professor of Physics and Professor of Molecular and Cell Biology, University of California Berkeley and Professor of Physics and Applied Physics at Stanford University. Previous to those posts, he was with AT&T Bell Laboratories. Dr. Chu is the co-recipient of the Nobel Prize for Physics (1997) for his contributions to the laser cooling and trapping of atoms. His other areas of research include tests of fundamental theories in physics, atom interferometry, study of polymers and biological systems at the single molecule level, and biomedical research. While at Stanford, he helped start Bio-X, a multi-disciplinary initiative that brings together the physical and biological sciences with engineering and medicine. More recently, he has focused on how to transition to a sustainable future. 

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Liang Feng

We are interested in the structure, dynamics and function of eukaryotic transport proteins mediating ions and major nutrients crossing the membrane, the kinetics and regulation of transport processes, the catalytic mechanism of membrane embedded enzymes and the development of small molecule modulators based on the structure and function of membrane proteins.

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Chris Garcia

Jointly appointed in Structural Biology

Structural and functional studies of transmembrane receptor interactions with their ligands in systems relevant to human health and disease - primarily in immunity, infection, and neurobiology. We study these problems using protein engineering, structural, biochemical, and combinatorial biology approaches.

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Miriam Goodman (Director of Training Programs)

Touch is the first sense to develop, the last to fade, vital to daily living and poorly understood. We investigate the biophysics and mechanics of touch sensation by combining in vivo electrophysiology with genetics and novel tools for mechanical stimulation, through quantitative behavioral studies, light and electron microscopy. Other interests include developing simple animal models of peripheral sensory neuropathy and investigating how neurons resist mechanical stress.

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Brian Kobilka

Jointly appointed, by courtesy, in Chemical and Systems Biology

The Kobilka lab investigates the molecular mechanisms of G protein coupled receptor signaling. G protein coupled receptors are responsible for the majority of cellular responses to hormones and neurotransmitters, as well as the senses of sight, olfaction and taste. We use a variety of biochemical and biophysical approaches to characterize the structure and dynamic properties of these receptors that are responsible for their versatile signaling behavior.

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Richard Lewis

Calcium signaling mechanisms in lymphocytes. Generation of calcium signals by channels, pumps and organelles, and the effects of calcium dynamics on the specificity of T-cell gene expression. In vivo calcium imaging with two-photon microscopy. Patch-clamp studies of the biophysics and regulation of store-operated calcium channels.

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Daniel Madison

Mechanisms of synaptic transmission and plasticity in mammalian hippocampus using electrophysiological techniques. Study of long-term potentiation and mechanisms underlying memory formation in the central nervous system.

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Merritt Maduke

We are interested in the molecular mechanisms of ion channels and transporters. We study these mechanisms using a combination of biophysical methods to probe protein structure and dynamics together with electrophysiological analysis to directly measure function.

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Maxence Nachury (Director of Graduate Studies)

We study the primary cilium, a once-obscure cellular organelle recently "re-discovered" for its role in a number of signaling pathways. Defects in cilium biogenesis lead to a variety of hereditary disorders characterized by retinal degeneration, kidney cysts and obesity. Our goal is to characterize these disorders at the molecular and cellular levels to gain insight into the basic mechanisms of primary cilium biogenesis and to discover novel ciliary signaling pathways.

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James Nelson

Jointly appointed in Biology

Mechanisms involved in the development and maintenance of epithelial cell polarity. Molecular and cellular analysis of protein sorting, cell-cell adhesion proteins, and interactions with the cytoskeleton.

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Lucy O'Brien

Stem cell dynamics during functional adaptation of the Drosophila midgut. Physiological signals and cellular interactions that distinguish stem-based organ remodeling from organ renewal. Impact of tissue architecture on stem cell behavior. Genetic perturbation of stem cell regulation, fixed and live tissue imaging, and quantitative morphometric analysis.

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Thomas C. Südhof

Jointly appointed, by courtesy, in Neurology & Neurological Sciences and Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences

In brain, neurons primarily communicate with each other at synapses, which are highly plastic, and not only transfer, but also process and store information. My laboratory is interested in how synapses are formed, how synapses work at a molecular level and change during synaptic plasticity, and how synapses become dysfunctional in diseases such as autism and other neuropsychiatric disorders. To address these questions, my laboratory employs a variety of approaches ranging from biophysical and biochemical studies to electrophysiological and behavioral analyses of mutant mice.

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William Weis

Jointly appointed in Structural Biology and Photon Science

Molecular interactions that underlie the establishment and maintenance of cell and tissue structure are studied with a variety of biochemical, structural, and biophysical methods. Specific areas of interest include cadherin-based adhesion and its interaction with the cytoskeleton, the relationship between cell-cell junction formation and generation of cell polarity, and the Wnt signaling pathway that controls cell fate determination.

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Faculty by Courtesy Appointment

Ron Dror

Department of Computer Science


John Huguenard

Department of Neurology & Neurological Sciences

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Beth Pruitt

Department of Mechanical Engineering

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Richard Reimer

Department of Neurology & Neurological Sciences

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Anthony Ricci

Department of Otolaryngology (Head and Neck Surgery)

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Gregory Scherrer

Department of Anesthesia

Our laboratory investigates the cellular and molecular mechanisms of pain and its control by opioids. When chronic, pain is no longer an essential warning system critical to our survival, but a disease that severely affects the quality of life of many patients. We search to identity the neurons that participate in generating the sensation of pain and to uncover the molecular mechanisms that regulate neural activity in pain circuits. One of our goals is to elucidate the mechanisms by which opioids such as morphine generate analgesia and detrimental side effects, including addiction, to develop more efficient and safer analgesics. To this end we combine a variety of experimental approaches including molecular and cellular biology, neuroanatomy, electrophysiology, optogenetics and behavior.

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Emeritus Faculty

Stephen Smith

Our laboratory explores the development, structure, function and disorders of the brain’s neural circuitry. The lab’s experimental approach has typically begun with the invention of a new optical imaging method followed by applications of that method to attack important but previously untractable experimental challenges. Most recently, the lab invented a unique high-resolution proteomic imaging method called “array tomography”, and are now working to apply this novel method to explore the molecular architecture of cortical microcircuits in mouse and human. This work is currently focused on efforts to identify the circuit loci of the specific changes in synaptic connectivity associated with specific memory traces, i.e. the physical “engrams” of experience. See Lab

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Richard Tsien

Now at NYU Langone Medical Center

Our lab works in many areas of neuroscience, with multiple approaches, but there is a unifying question: how are neuronal networks attuned to meeting the demands of information processing in the brain? See Lab

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Former Faculty

Richard Aldrich – (1990 - 2005)
Now at The University of Texas at Austin


Richard Scheller – (1990-2001)
Now at Genentech


Thomas Schwarz – (1990 - 2000)
Now at Children's Hospital Boston