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Research Interests

I have a long standing interest in the proteins of cell membranes, and in developing electron imaging methods to explore their three-dimensional structures and how they work in their natural lipid setting.

Past research projects have centred around the purple membrane protein bacteriorhodopsin, membrane-bound ribosomes, nuclear pores, gap junctions and the dendritic spines of Purkinje cells.

Most recently, I have been studying the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor, the transmitter-gated ion channel at the neuromuscular junction (the synapse between nerve and muscle cells). This protein is pivotal to the mechanism by which our brain tells our muscles to work. It has been fine-tuned through evolution to maximise speed and robustness in response to acetylcholine released from the nerve into the synaptic cleft. Our goal is to understand how it functions so effectively, in molecular terms, using an experimental approach that recapitulates synaptic activation in living tissue.

I was a PhD student in the Department of Metallurgy, University of Cambridge from 1965-68, and then took a position at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge. From 1980-87 I worked as Professor of Cell Biology at Stanford University Medical School, California. In 1988 I returned to the MRC Laboratory, taking also a joint appointment at the Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, California.