The Dougherty group in the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at the California Institute of Technology conducts research in organic chemistry and chemical biology. The major focus of the group seeks a chemical-scale understanding of ion channels and neuroreceptors. These integral membrane proteins are the molecules of memory, learning, and sensory perception. They are also the targets of pharmaceuticals intended to treat Alzheimers disease, Parkinsons disease, schizophrenia, learning and attention deficits, and many others disorders. By using a combination of organic synthesis, molecular biology, electrophysiology, and computer modeling, detailed structural and mechanistic insights into these complex systems can be obtained.
Ion channels are also the ultimate molecular sensors. These proteins transduce a chemical event - binding of a small organic molecule - into an electrical signal (flow of ions). The sensitivity of modern electronics allows single molecule detection to be routinely achieved. As such, another goal of the group is to use ion channels as a platform for developing novel signaling/sensing systems.
We also have a long-standing interest in fundamental aspects of biological recognition, and have extensively studied the cation-p interaction as an important general force in structural biology. We continue to evaluate new systems that provide examples of this important and broadly general noncovalent binding interaction.