Nerve ion channels play a crucial role in brain function as nerve firing is triggering by the opening and closing of ion channels that allow current of molecular ions to flow in and out of neurons, triggering the action potential travels along nerves. Many brain disorders, such as Parkinson’s and epilepsy are associated with abnormal nerve firings patterns and particularly the synchrony of nerve firing1. Ion channels are made up of proteins in the membrane of cells that can cooperate for the onset and propagation of electrical signals across membranes by providing a highly selective conduction of charges bound to ions through a channel like structure. In fact, each ion channel is specialized for specific ions, e.g. potassium channels only permit potassium ions to pass the membrane while they reject other ions (e.g. sodium) to pass. This property is called selectivity and the important part of the ion channel that is responsible for selectivity, is called selectivity filter.
Numerous investigations of ion selectivity have been conducted over more than 50 years, yet the mechanisms whereby the channels select certain ions and reject others are not well understood. It has been hypothesized that quantum coherence and quantum interference effects plays a key role in both selectivity and speed of transport through ion channels in nerve membranes2. The hypothesis, if true, might help to account for the recent finding that weak electromagnetic (EM) fields, of the strength and structure of endogenous EM fields in the brain, influence the pattern of neuron firing and particularly neuronal synchrony3-5.
The aim of this project is the test the hypothesis that quantum coherence plays a role in neuronal ion transport. We will test the hypothesis by measuring currents through ion channels with and without external EM fields and using both normal and heavy isotopes of ions, such as K+, in order to perturb coherences. We will compare the results to predictions made through quantum mechanical simulations of ion channel conductivity in order to test the hypothesis that quantum coherence is involved ion channel conductivity and selectivity.
Experimental approaches: We will use standard patch-clamp approaches to measure channel current in neuronal ion channels from inside and outside a single neuron in rat brain slice during intra- and extracellular stimulation. A typical experimental configuration will consist of an extracellular stimulation electrode, an intracellular patching electrode and 6 extracellular recording pipettes monitoring Ve close to the cell body. Electromagnetic fields will be applied through two parallel AgCl that will be arranged such that the slice will be subjected to an approximately uniform EF with field lines perpendicular to the cortical surface. Recordings will be made of ion conductivity with normal and heavy isotopes of K+ and results compared to quantum level simulations and predictions.
Entry requirements: Applicants must have a second class or higher BSc in a biological discipline. Applicants who have an A Level or equivalent in Mathematics, Physics or Engineering will be at an advantage. A willingness to work across the disciplines is essential. If English is not your first language, you will be required to have an IELTS Academic of 6.5 or above (or equivalent), with no sub-test score below 6.