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Molecular Physiology and Biophysics Section - Division of Intramural Research


Kenton J Swartz Image

Kenton J Swartz, Ph.D., Senior Investigator

Dr. Swartz received his B.S. degree in Chemistry and Biology in 1986 from Eastern Mennonite College. In 1992 he received his Ph.D. in Neurobiology from Harvard University where he worked with Bruce Bean studying the regulation of voltage-gated calcium channels by G-proteins and protein kinases. He did postdoctoral training with Roderick MacKinnon at Harvard Medical School, where he began isolating and studying toxins that interact with voltage-activated potassium channels. Dr. Swartz joined NINDS as an Investigator in 1997 and was promoted to Senior Investigator in 2003. His laboratory is using biochemical, molecular biological and biophysical techniques to investigate the structure of voltage-activated ion channels and to explore the molecular mechanics by which these channels gate.

Laboratory Staff

Erika Babikow, B.S., Post baccalaureate Fellow
Chanhyung Bae, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Fellow
Tsg-Hui (Helena) Chang, M.Sc, Research Assistant
Kanchan Gupta, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Fellow
Sonya Hanson, B.S., Special Volunteer
Emily Harnish, B.S., Post baccalaureate Fellow
Andres Jara-Oseguera, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Fellow
Dmitriy V Krepkiy, Ph.D., Staff Scientist
Mufeng Li, Ph.D., Staff Scientist
Suvendu Lomash, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Fellow
Ferenc Papp, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Fellow
Shai Silberberg, Ph.D., Adjunct Investigator
Gil Toombes, Ph.D., Research Fellow
Feng Zhang, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Fellow
Kenton J Swartz Staff Image

Research Interests

Voltage-gated ion channels are expressed in many cells types and are important for an array of physiological processes, including the generation and processing of electrical signals in the nervous system, regulation of heart contraction and secretion of hormones. The role of these channels in electrical signaling is particularly important because they open and close in response to changes in membrane voltage. For example, action potentials result from the orchestrated action of voltage-gated sodium and potassium channels, and voltage-gated calcium channels convert electrical to chemical signals in the process of excitation-secretion coupling.

The three main classes of voltage-gated ion channels belong to a common family of membrane proteins constructed from two types of domains: a central pore domain where the conduction pathways for potassium, sodium or calcium ions reside, and four surrounding voltage-sensing domains. A major focus of the lab is to explore the structure of the voltage-sensing domains in voltage-gated potassium (Kv) channels and to define how and where the voltage-sensors interact with the gate region of the pore domain.

A complementary aim is to study protein toxins that interact with voltage-gated ion channels. Our work with a class of toxins that we refer to as gating modifier toxins has begun to reveal new mechanisms by which channel-interacting proteins modify activity and to shed light on several fundamental questions concerning the process of voltage-sensing. Since many drugs affecting the nervous system derive their efficacy by modulating the gating of voltage-gated channels, we continue to search for new molecules that interact with these channels and to study the molecular basis for their actions.


Selected Recent Publications

  • Toombes, E.S. and Swartz, K.J.
    Divining the design principles of voltage sensors, J Gen Physiol, 2014, vol. 143, pp. 139-44. Full Text/Abstract
  • Kalia, J and Swartz, KJ
    Exploring structure-function relationships between TRP and Kv channels, Sci Reports, 2013, vol. 3:1523, pp. 1-9. Full Text/Abstract
  • Milescu, M., Lee, H.W., Bae, C., Kim, J.I. and Swartz, K.J.
    Opening the Shaker Kv channel with hanatoxin, J Gen Physiol, 2013, vol. 141, pp. 203-16. Full Text/Abstract
  • Kalia, J. and Swartz, K.J.
    The design principle of paddle motifs in voltage sensors, Nature Struct Mol Biol, 2013, vol. 20, pp. 534-5. Full Text/Abstract
  • Heymann, G., Dai, J., Li, M., Silberberg, S.D., Zhou, H-X. and Swartz, K.J.
    Inter- and intrasubunit interactions between transmembrane helices in the open state of P2X receptor channels, Proc Nat'l Acad Sci, 2013, vol. 110, pp. E4045-54. Full Text/Abstract
  • Li, M., Silberberg, S.D. and Swartz, K.J.
    Subtype-specific control of P2X receptor channel signaling by ATP and magnesium, Proc Nat'l Acad Sci, 2013, vol. 110, pp. E3455-63. Full Text/Abstract
  • Krepkiy, D., Gawrisch, K. and Swartz K.J.
    Structural interactions between lipids, water and S1-S4 voltage-sensing domains, J Mol Biol, 2012, vol. 423, pp. 632-647. Full Text/Abstract
  • Swartz, K.J., During, M.J., Freese, A. and Beal, M.F
    Cerebral synthesis and release of kynurenic acid: an endogenous antagonist of excitatory amino acid receptors, J. Neuroscience, 1990, vol. 10, pp. 2965-2973.

Selected Earlier Publications


Contact Information

Molecular Physiology and Biophysics Section, NINDS
Porter Neuroscience Research Center
Building 35, Room 3B-215
35 Convent Drive, MSC 3701
Bethesda, MD 20892-3701

Telephone: 301-435-5652 (office), 301-435-2114 (laboratory), 301-435-5666 (fax)
Email: swartzk@ninds.nih.gov