BMS303 - Molecular Physiology of Ion Channels and Human Disease (10 credits)

Module Co-ordinator: Dr L. Robson


The aim of this module is to provide an understanding of ion channel physiology and pathophysiology in a variety of electrically excitable cells such as muscle and the nervous system, and to give an appreciation of the methodologies used in modern ion channel research.


The module will start with an overview of the different ion channel families found in electrically excitable cells, before moving on to their biophysical properties and inhibition by drugs used in medical research. The majority of the module will then focus on the physiological role of ion channels in electrically excitable cells, examining a number of tissues such as muscle and the nervous system. In this systems based approach students will learn about the molecular physiology of a variety of different ion channels, including Na+, K+, Ca2+, Cl- and cation channels.  The importance of ion channels in physiological function is highlighted by channelopathies, diseases associated with ion channel mutations. This module will therefore also concentrate on the role of ion channels in a number of these diseases such as myotonia and and long QT syndrome. The emphasis throughout will be to appreciate how experimental research informs our understanding of ion channel physiology, reflecting the University mission statement to lead teaching by current research.


Students will acquire knowledge that will enable them to:

  • Summarise the diverse classes of cell membrane ion channels.
  • Explain current methods for experimental study of ion channels.
  • Outline the molecular structure and modus operandi of these molecules.
  • Describe the biophysical properties of ion channels, including actions of a variety of different drugs.
  • Discuss how different ion channels play an important role in the normal physiology of excitable cells.
  • Discuss the molecular basis of several human diseases that result from abnormal ion channel function, highlighting the evidence that supports this molecular basis.
  • Describe the importance of beta subunits in ion channel function, providing evidence for such a role.
  • Utilise and integrate information from different sources.
  • Complete a data interpretation or data handling exercise.

Teaching Methods

Material is presented mainly as formal lectures, with an opportunity to ask questions at the end. There will be directed exercises delivered via the WEB including literature criticism and self-assessment questions to gauge understanding and achievement of the objectives.


This module will be assessed by a 120 minute written examination. This will comprise a data handling section (50%) and an extended writing section (50%). The emphasis will be on integration and understanding of knowledge obtained during the module.