A class of proteins called calcium channels is involved in many physiological processes including muscle contraction, hormone secretion, and electrical signalling in the nervous system. Changes in calcium channels can lead to illnesses such as migraine headache, epilepsy, hypertension, arrhythmias, and stroke.
Neuroscientist Dr. Terry Snutch has long been studying calcium channels. Using molecular cloning techniques, he isolated five distinct classes of calcium channels. He then looked at the properties of the cloned channels to determine their functional and pharmacological characteristics as expressed in nerve, smooth muscle, and heart. In addition, he studied the modulation of calcium channels by intracellular signalling pathways and neurotransmitter receptors and found that certain physiological processes are influenced by the regulation of these channels, including increased hormone secretion, increased contractile force of muscle, and changes to both short- and long-term memory.
Calcium channels are known to be targets for some therapeutic agents, including those used to treat epilepsy and psychosis. Dr. Snutch has described the structural relationship between therapeutic agents and individual types of calcium channels expressed in nerve cells.
As Canada Research Chair in Biotechnology and Genomics - Neurobiology, Dr. Snutch continues his studies in this area. He is demonstrating how various types of calcium channels are regulated by enzymes and by intracellular molecules called G-proteins. His studies will show how painkiller molecules (both natural opioids and synthetic painkillers such as morphine) work. Ultimately, his research will provide invaluable information to help other scientists design new calcium channel therapies for conditions including stroke, migraine, and epilepsy.