Maurice J. Kernan, Ph.D.

Research

Our research combines Drosophila genetics, molecular biology and electrophysiology to investigate the cellular and molecular basis for the mechanical senses: touch, hearing and proprioception. We focus on mechanosensory signaling in ciliated sensory neurons and in sperm flagella, using genetics to discover their molecular working parts, in particular the mechanically-activated ion channels that convert touch and sound into electrical receptor potentials. Mutations in human polycystins, ciliary mechanosensory channel proteins, also lead to polycystic kidney disease. In Drosophila, polycystin proteins are located on the sperm flagellum. A polycystin mutant is male-sterile: mutant sperm are motile, but fail to enter female sperm storage organs after mating. We are now using fly sperm as a genetic system to study polycystin signaling; the Drosophila polycystins may provide the first clue to the molecular mechanism mediating sperm competition, a bizarre arena of intense selective pressures and significant evolutionary impact.

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