Biophysics of leaky HCN ion channels

The hyperpolarisation-activated, cyclic nucleotide-gated (HCN) channel, opens and conducts positively charged ions when the transmembrane voltage is negative on the inside. Several variants in the HCN1 subtype channel have been reported in patients with severe epilepsy. Functional analyses of these variants revealed a converging functional impact of ‘leaky’ channels, which remain open and conduct ions at membrane voltages in which the channels are meant to be closed.


  • Gain an understanding of how these HCN1 variants cause a ‘leaky’ phenotype at the molecular level to result in severe epilepsy.
  • Elucidate HCN1 channel function at the molecular scale using naturally occurring variants as novel functional tools.
  • Identify anchor points and amino acid interactions critical for the stabilisation of the closed channel pore, regulation of cooperativity between subunits, as well as binding pockets of HCN1 compounds.

HCN channels play a role in regulating pacemaker current in cardiac muscle cells and CNS neurons. Pathogenic variants in HCN channels have been associated with various neurological conditions including neuropathic pain and epilepsy. There are four HCN isoforms in the mammals (HCN1-4), and each channel is a tetramer, comprising of four subunits. Each subunit has six transmembrane segments with distinct functions. Emerging studies are beginning to provide insight into how these transmembrane segments interact within and between subunits to facilitate channel opening, although the actual mechanism remains poorly understood.

Understanding how HCN channels open and close and elucidating HCN structure-function relationships is essential for multiple applications. These include knowledge transfer for targeted compound development and mechanistic understanding of how mutations affect biophysical properties of the channel to lead to disease phenotype.

Successful applicants will have the opportunity to:

  • operate two-electrode voltage clamp, voltage clamp fluorometry (which measures channel movement in real-time)
  • electrophysiological analysis
  • Xenopus oocyte handling/injections
  • molecular biology
  • be involved in manuscript preparation.

Research team


  • Chaseley McKenzie


  • Andrew Hung – RMIT
  • Magdalena Natalia Wojciechowski – University of Münster

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