The work in the Gouaux Lab is concentrated on developing molecular mechanisms for the function of receptors and transporters at chemical synapses. At chemical synapses, neurotransmitters released from one neuron diffuse throughout a small space—the synaptic cleft—to receptors on adjacent neurons. At many synapses, the neurotransmitter binds to a receptor that is a ligand-gated ion channel, and this binding event leads to the opening of a transmembrane pore, which in turn results in depolarization of the nerve cell and generation of an electrical signal. Neurotransmitter transporters surrounding the synapse clear the transmitters from the cleft by coupling the thermodynamically unfavorable uptake to the favorable co-transport of one or more sodium ions.
Glutamate, glycine and the biogenic amines are neurotransmitters of particular significance and currently the lab is focusing our efforts on eukaryotic glutamate receptors and on bacterial homologs of the transporters for glutamate, glycine and the biogenic amines. While the lab’s primary tool is x-ray crystallography, it also utilizes electrophysiology, as well as other biophysical and biochemical methods.