Pontus Gourdon

PhD Lund University Medicine Year of admission: 2015

How cells sense pain and transport copper
Proteins that sense pain, heat and various flavors, among other things, are found on the surface of cells and Pontus Gourdon will produce three-dimensional images of them. He will also depict the proteins that are responsible for transporting copper ions into cells. The aim is to understand how these proteins function at the molecular level, in detail.

There are 27 related TRP ion channels, which have different functions, on the surface of the body’s cells. Some sense heat and cold. Some convey feelings of pain or the flavors of garlic, chili pepper and peppermint, for example. Some are found in smooth muscle in the walls of blood vessels and the bladder, among other places.

Common to all TRP ion channels is that – when triggered by their surroundings – they allow positively charged ions to flow across cellular membranes. To understand how this works, Dr. Pontus Gourdon, at Lund University and University of Copenhagen, will use X-ray crystallography and cryo-electron microscopy to produce sharp three-dimensional images (structures) of what these ion transporters look like. He will also depict copper transporters (CDRs), which are also located on the surface of the cell but which transport copper ions into the cell.

These structures will provide knowledge that can be used in the development of pharmaceuticals. TRP ion channels are, for example, involved in chronic pain, incontinence and some forms of cardiovascular disease. Pharmaceuticals that target CDRs could be used in the treatment of fungal infections. As a Wallenberg Academy Fellow, Pontus Gourdon will be active at Lund University.


Photo: Markus Marcetic