Ehud Isacoff is a biophysicist and neuroscientist recognized for his work on membrane signaling proteins, synapses and neural circuits. Born in Darmstadt, Germany, Isacoff grew up in Israel, Boston and New York. He received his BSc in Biology and PhD in Physiology at McGill University in Montreal and was a postdoctoral fellow with Lily Jan and Yuh Nung Jan at UC San Francisco. He joined the faculty in the UC Berkeley MCB Department in 1993, and served as Head of the Neurobiology Division, Director of the Molecular Imaging Center, and Director of the Nanomedicine Development Center in the Optical Control of Biological Function. He is currently Evan Rauch Professor of Neuroscience and Director of the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute. Isacoff has been awarded the Schubert Chair, the Class of 1943 Chair, and the Class of 1933 Chair in Biological Sciences at UC Berkeley and the Biophysical Society Kenneth S. Cole Award and Israeli Society for Physiology & Pharmacology Magnes Prize. He serves on Scientific Advisory Boards for the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research in Heidelberg, the Sagol School of Neuroscience in Tel Aviv University and on the Board of Scientific Governors of the Lowy Medical Research Institute.

Research Interests

In his ion channel studies, Isacoff has explored how brief voltage changes in excitable cells drive ion-conducting pores to open. To do this, he invented a method that directly reveals the conformational changes in ion channel proteins. This work has led to a breakthrough in understanding of voltage-sensing and the control of the ion channels that generate the action potential and mediate neural transmission and muscle contraction. Recently, he has applied the methods to elucidate neurotransmitter receptors. Isacoff has also pioneered Photoswitched Tethered Ligands, optochemical toggles that activate or block channels or receptors with previously unattainable speed and precision. These tools enable molecular and systems analysis of the ion channels, neurotransmitter receptor channels and G protein coupled receptors that mediate synaptic signaling, the plastic changes of memory, and the neuromodulation that controls mood and movement. In a promising effort to create a treatment for blindness, he has used light-gated synaptic receptors to install light sensitivity into surviving retinal neurons following photoreceptor cell degeneration. Isacoff has also developed a method of measuring synaptic strength at hundreds of connections at a time. This "optical quantal analysis" reveals an unexpected diversity of synaptic function, and enables advances in the understanding of the mechanism of synapse regulation.

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Primary Section

Section 23: Physiology and Pharmacology

Secondary Section

Section 24: Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience