here for more on his research:
Structure of Ion Channels
Professor Roderick MacKinnon, head of the Laboratory of Molecular
Neurobiology and Biophysics and an investigator at the Howard
Hughes Medical Institute, was elected to membership in the U.S.
National Academy of Sciences (NAS) at the Academyís 137th
meeting on Tues., May 2. MacKinnon studies the functional and
structural architecture of ion channel proteins, molecules that
govern the electrical potential of membranes throughout nature,
thereby generating nerve impulses and controlling muscle contraction,
cardiac rhythm and hormone secretion.
The transfer of potassium ions across cell membranes has long
been understood as an essential activity for many life-sustaining
functions. The proper balance of these ions is essential for fundamental
operations, such as the transmission of nerve impulses throughout
the body and brain. But until MacKinnon captured an image of the
channel, it was not well understood how the process actually worked.
"We are pleased that the Academy has chosen to recognize
Rod for his outstanding contributions to our understanding of
how the structure of ion channels relates to their function,"
says President Arnold J. Levine, who was elected to the NAS in
In 1998, MacKinnonís laboratory solved the structure of
the potassium ion channel, and the three-dimensional image of
the channel was published on the cover of Science magazine, which
labeled the breakthrough one of the 10 biggest science stories
of the year. MacKinnon is modest about the impact of his research,
but other scientists strongly praised his work. "A remarkable
accomplishment," proclaimed Clay Armstrong, a professor in
the Department of Physiology at the University of Pennsylvania
School of Medicine who reviewed MacKinnonís paper in the
same issue of Science. "It is a dream come true for biophysicists."
calls the design of the potassium ion channel protein "elegant
in its simplicity." The balance of electrical forces and
chemical bonds inside the protein not only sends potassium ions
through the channel rapidly but also keeps out most other ions.
MacKinnonís research may play an important role in the development
of drugs to deal with diseases ranging from diabetes to heart
The scientific community has recognized MacKinnonís contributions
and bestowed upon him some of its highest honors, including the
1999 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award, the nationís
most distinguished honor for outstanding contributions to basic
and clinical medical research; he shared the prize with Armstrong
and Bertil Hille, a Rockefeller University alumnus who is a professor
of physiology and biophysics at the University of Washington.
MacKinnon is a member of Alpha Omega Alpha Medical Honors Society,
a PEW scholar in the Biomedical Sciences and the recipient of
the McKnight Scholars Award, the Biophysical Society Young Investigator
Award, the McKnight Investigator Award, the W. Alden Spencer Award,
the AAAS Newcomb Cleveland Prize and, most recently, the Lewis
S. Rosenstiel Award for Distinguished Work in Basic Medical Science.