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Gucan "Gabriel" Dai, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor

Biophysical and structural mechanisms of ion channels, principles of bioelectricity, and the biochemistry of excitable membranes.

Office: DRC 503
Voice: (314) 977-9211

Research Interests

Ion channels form ion-permeable transmembrane pores that govern the so-called “nerve spikes or action potentials” and rapidly transmit electrical signals in excitable cells. They can be viewed as specialized enzymes that catalyze the fast and selective diffusion of ions, like sodium and calcium ions across the cell membrane. These macromolecules are crucial for the electrical activities that are responsible for many essential physiological processes; for example: neurotransmitter release, synaptic transmission, and cardiac pacemaking.

The Dai lab combines cutting-edge biophysical and biochemical techniques, including patch-clamp fluorometry, spectroscopic FRET, protein engineering, fluorescent noncanonical amino acids, and high-resolution nanoscopy, to understand how ion channels are controlled by membrane voltages, the binding of intracellular ligands, and the rapid dynamics of cellular lipids. These mechanisms are important for major diseases, including neuropathic pain, epilepsy, Alzheimer's disease, and cardiac arrhythmia.

Projects in the lab include:

  • Voltage-sensing and regulatory mechanisms of pacemaker hyperpolarization-activated cyclic nucleotide-gated (HCN) channels. The HCN channel governs cardiac pacemaking and plays a role in controlling the firing of nociceptive neurons. To understand how HCN channels are implicated in the cellular and structural basis of pain sensation, experimental plans will focus on the structural mechanisms of human HCN channels and on the channel modulation that is related to the neuropathic pain.
  • Understanding how ion channels depend on their lipid environment, especially the dynamics of key signaling phosphoinositides and the lipid-raft microdomains.
  • Future interests of the lab include the biophysics of neuronal voltage-gated potassium channels as well as the cyclic nucleotide-gated channels in human retinal photoreceptors.

Recent Publications

Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology