David Julius, PhD

Professor & Chair
Department of Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology
+1 415 476-0431

My group is interested in understanding how signals are received and transmitted by the nervous system. In one aspect of our research, we have exploited the power of natural products to elucidate molecular mechanisms of touch and pain sensation. For example, we have asked how capsaicin, the main pungent ingredient in "hot" chili peppers, elicits burning pain, and how menthol, the cooling agent in mint leaves, evokes an icy cool sensation. Using these agents as pharmacological probes, we have identified ion channels on sensory nerve fibers that are activated by heat or cold, providing molecular insight into the process of thermosensation. With the aid of genetic, electrophysiological, and behavioral methods, we are asking how these ion channels contribute to the detection of heat or cold, and how their activity is modulated in response to tumor growth, infection, or other forms of injury that produce inflammation and pain hypersensitivity.

In addition to our work on somatosensation and pain, we also study the structure and function of specific neurotransmitter receptors, such as those activated by serotonin or extracellular nucleotides, and use genetic methods to identify roles for these receptors in physiological and behavioral processes, such as feeding, anxiety, pain, thrombosis, and cell growth and motility.

Primary Thematic Area: 
Neurobiology
Secondary Thematic Area: 
None
Research Summary: 
Molecular Biology of Neurotransmitter Receptors and Ion Channels

Websites

Publications: 

Enterochromaffin Cells Are Gut Chemosensors that Couple to Sensory Neural Pathways.

Cell

Bellono NW, Bayrer JR, Leitch DB, Castro J, Zhang C, O'Donnell TA, Brierley SM, Ingraham HA, Julius D

Pharmacology of the Nav1.1 domain IV voltage sensor reveals coupling between inactivation gating processes.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

Osteen JD, Sampson K, Iyer V, Julius D, Bosmans F

Molecular basis of ancestral vertebrate electroreception.

Nature

Bellono NW, Leitch DB, Julius D

Lys49 myotoxin from the Brazilian lancehead pit viper elicits pain through regulated ATP release.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

Zhang C, Medzihradszky KF, Sánchez EE, Basbaum AI, Julius D

Selective spider toxins reveal a role for the Nav1.1 channel in mechanical pain.

Nature

Osteen JD, Herzig V, Gilchrist J, Emrick JJ, Zhang C, Wang X, Castro J, Garcia-Caraballo S, Grundy L, Rychkov GY, Weyer AD, Dekan Z, Undheim EA, Alewood P, Stucky CL, Brierley SM, Basbaum AI, Bosmans F, King GF, Julius D