Alan Kay, Ph.D.
Ion and water fluxes play important roles in nervous systems; from generating action potentials to the damaging water fluxes induced by trauma. The sodium pump establishes the asymmetric distribution of sodium and potassium across the membrane, which is necessary from generating action potentials. Perhaps less well known, is the sodium pump's role in stabilizing cell volume. We are particularly interested in how the activity of ion pumps and channels stabilize cell volume by counteracting the Donnan effect induced by impermeant molecules. The coupling of ion fluxes by groups of cells also plays a central role in sensory transduction. In collaboration with Dr. Dan Eberl, we study how the coupling of different cell types in fruit fly ‘ears’, which are housed in their antennae, make it exquisitely sensitive to movement.
We also have an interest in developing new tools for exploring nervous systems and recently devised a technique, the goggatomy, that for the first time allows one to open very small cuticular compartments in arthropods, exposing live cells.
We use a number of experimental techniques (current and voltage clamp recording, fluorescent imaging and spectroscopy, and Drosophila genetics to express fluorescent sensors) together with mathematical models to explore the interaction of ion and water fluxes in cells.