Jon Sack

Jon Sack

Position Title
Associate Professor

Department of Physiology and Membrane Biology, School of Medicine
Department of Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine, School of Medicine

4135 Tupper Hall

Research Interests

Developing new means of imaging and controlling ion channel signaling

Ion channel proteins in our cell membranes create electrical signals. Ion channels control many physiological processes including hormone secretion, heartbeat, muscle contraction, and neurotransmission. In the Sack lab we study ion channels themselves, as this fundamental physiology research has implications for every electrically excitable cell in our body. Our focus is on creating molecular tools to image and control the physiological activity of specific voltage gated ion channels. These research tools have potential uses for study or treatment of many disease states such as cardiac arrhythmia or neuropathic pain that involve electrical signaling dysfunction

Seeing ion channel activity

Our ion channels can open and close hundreds of times per second, but this activity has been invisible to medical imaging technologies. We have recently developed methods that, for the first time, enable imaging of ion channel activity without genetic or chemical modification of the channel's structure, and thus have potential as medical diagnostic imaging agents. Our imaging methods involve molecules that bind to ion channels only when they adopt specific conformations. When ion channels change their activity, the probes bind to or dissociate from the channels. We have labeled these probes with fluorescent reporters, so ion channel activity can be imaged by today's radically advancing fluorescence microscope technologies. Ion channel activity probes are a first step towards new medical imaging technology that could diagnose the functioning of specific ion channels in health and disease.

Controlling ion channel activity

The human body expresses hundreds of different types of ion channel proteins. Each channel type has a distinct, unique physiological function. Many physiologic events such as insulin secretion, or pain signaling are driven by a unique complement of ion channels. These processes can be up- or down-regulated by modulating their ion channels. We are developing serial strategies to selectively modulate ion channel types that control specific physiological functions. Our goal is to develop selective ion channel therapies without reduced side-effects that control electrical dysfunctions, such as neuropathic pain.

Grad Group Affiliations

  • Biochemistry, Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology
  • Biophysics
  • Molecular, Cellular and Integrative Physiology

Specialties / Focus

  • Cellular Physiology
  • Molecular Physiology
  • Neurophysiology
  • Signaling and Excitable Membranes


  • 2003 Ph.D. Biological Sciences Stanford University
  • 1997 B.A. Biochemistry Reed College


2017    Sack JT. The envenomation of general physiology throughout the last century. Journal of General Physiology, 149:975-983.

2015    Thiffault I, Speca DJ, Austin DC, Cobb MM, Eum KS, Safina NP, Grote L, Farrow EG, Miller N, Soden S, Kingsmore SF, Trimmer JS, Saunders CJ, Sack JT. A novel epileptic encephalopathy mutation in KCNB1 disrupts Kv2.1 ion selectivity, expression, and localization. Journal of General Physiology 146:399-410.

2015    Sack JT, Tilley DC. What keeps Kv channels small? The molecular physiology of modesty. Journal of General Physiology, 146:123-7.

2015    Gupta K, Zamanian M, Bae C, Milescu M, Krepkiy D, Tilley DC, Sack JT, Yarov-Yarovoy V, Kim JI, Swartz KJ. Tarantula toxins use common surfaces for interacting with Kv and ASIC ion channels. eLife, 4:e06774.

2015    Chen-Izu Y, Shaw RM, Pitt GS, Yarov-Yarovoy V, Sack JT, Abriel H, Aldrich RW, Belardinelli L, Cannell MB, Catterall WA, Chazin WJ, Chiamvimonvat N, Deschenes I, Grandi E, Hund TJ, Izu LT, Maier LS, Maltsev VA, Marionneau C, Mohler PJ, Rajamani S, Rasmusson RL, Sobie EA, Clancy CE, Bers D. Na+ Channel Function, Regulation, Structure, Trafficking and Sequestration. Journal of Physiology, 593:1347-60.

2015    Cobb MM, Austin DC, Sack JT, Trimmer JS. Cell Cycle-dependent Changes in Localization and Phosphorylation of the Plasma Membrane Kv2.1 K+ Channel Impact Endoplasmic Reticulum Membrane Contact Sites in COS-1 Cells. J Biol Chem 290:29189-29201.

2015    Sack JT, Eum KS. Ion channel inhibitors. Handbook of Ion Channels. Zheng J, Trudeau M, editors (CRC Press, Boca Raton, Florida). Chapter 14: 189-97.

2014    Tilley D, Eum KS, Fletcher-Taylor S, Austin DA, Dupre C, Patron L, Garcia R, Lam K, Yarov-Yarovoy V, Cohen BE, Sack JT. Chemoselective tarantula toxins report activation of wild-type ion channels in live cells. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 111: E4789–E4796.

2014    Ingólfsson HI, Thakur P, Herold KF, Maretzky T, Hall K, Zwama M, Yilmaz D, Hemmings HC, Blobel C,  Koçer A, Sack JT, Andersen OS. Phytochemicals perturb membranes and promiscuously alter protein function. ACS Chemical Biology. 9:1788-98.

2014    Speca DJ, Ogata G, Mandikian D, Wiler SW, Eum K, Wenzel HJ, Doisy ET, Matt L, Campi KL, Golub MS, Nerbonne JM, Hell JW, Trainor BC, Sack JT, Schwartzkroin PA, Trimmer JS. Deletion of the Kv2.1 delayed rectifier potassium channel leads to neuronal and behavioral hyperexcitability. Genes, Brain and Behavior, 13:394-408.

2013    Sack JT, Stephanopoulos N, Austin DC, Francis MB, Trimmer JS. Antibody-guided photoablation of voltage-gated potassium currents. Journal of General Physiology, 142:315-324.

2011    Mandikian D, Cerda O, Sack JT, Trimmer JS. A SUMO-Phospho tag team for wrestling with potassium channel gating. Journal of General Physiology, 137:435-439.

2010    Al-Sabi A, Shamotienko O, Ní Dhochartaigh S, Muniyappa N, LeBerre M, Shaban H, Wang J, Sack JT, Dolly JO. Arrangement of Kv1 alpha subunits dictates sensitivity to tetraethylammonium. Journal of General Physiology, 136: 273-282.

2008    Sack JT, Shamotienko O, Dolly JO. How to validate a heteromeric ion channel drug target: assessing proper expression of concatenated subunits.  Journal of General Physiology, 131: 415-20.

2007    Sokolov MV, Shamotienko O, Ní Dhochartaigh S, Sack JT, Dolly JO. Concatemers of brain Kv1 channel alpha subunits that give similar K(+) currents yield pharmacologically distinguishable heteromers.  Neuropharmacology, 53: 272-82.

2006    Sack JT, Aldrich RW. Binding of a gating modifier toxin induces intersubunit cooperativity early in the Shaker K channel's activation pathway.  Journal of General Physiology, 128:119-32.

2004   Sack JT, Aldrich RW, Gilly WF. A gastropod toxin selectively slows early transitions in the Shaker K channel's activation pathway.  Journal of General Physiology, 123: 685-96.

2003    Kelley WP, Wolters AM, Sack JT, Jockusch RA, Jurchen JC, Williams ER, Sweedler JV, Gilly WF.  Characterization of a novel gastropod toxin (6-bromo-2-mercaptotryptamine) that inhibits shaker K channel activity.  Journal of Biological Chemistry, 278: 34934-42.