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Function and regulation of P-type ATPase ion pumps


The project aims to understand at the atomic level how the Na+,K+-ATPase and related ion pumps function and how they are regulated.


Associate Professor Ron Clarke.

Research location

School of Chemistry

Program type



Ion-transporting membrane proteins play a decisive role in the mechanism of all cells and in numerous physiological processes, e.g. ATP production, nerve impulse propagation and muscle contraction. A deeper understanding of their mechanisms and regulation can be obtained by the determination of the kinetics of their individual reaction steps. One approach to this research goal is to make use of the electrical current they generate and to apply an electrophysiological method. Another is to convert the electrical voltage that the proteins produce into an optical signal by incorporating a voltage-sensitive dye into the membrane. Voltage-sensitive styrylpyridinium dyes allow a rapid detection (within nanoseconds) of local electric field changes within membranes. Both spectroscopic and electrical detection methods will be applied in this project.A second important aspect of ion pump function is thermodynamics, i.e. the utilisation of energy. To investigate the energy usage of ion pumps the technique of calorimetry will be applied, which allows one to directly measure the release or absorption of heat when an ion pump undergoes a conformational change or substrate binding/release reaction.

The final essential aspect necessary for a complete understanding of ion pump function is structure. Fortunately, over the last 8 years both the Na+,K+-ATPase and its related enzyme, the Ca2+-ATPase, have been crystallized and structures have been determined by x-ray crystallography. In fact, the Ca2+-ATPase has been crystallized in a number of different conformations around its pump cycle. In this project these structures will be used as a template to construct homology models of the Na+,K+-ATPase and then to investigate its substrate binding via theoretical molecular dynamics simulations.    

Techniques to be used in the project:
* Stopped-flow fluorimetry
* Capacitive current biosensor
* Isothermal titration calorimetry
* Protein isolation and purification
* Homology modelling
* Molecular dynamics simulationsInternational collaborators involved in the project:
* Prof. Flemming Cornelius, University of Aarhus, Denmark
* Prof. Hans-Jürgen Apell, University of Constance, Germany
* Dr. Francesco Tadini-Buoninsegni, University of Florence, ItalyScholarships are available to high quality students. Most local students in the laboratory are supported by an Australian or University Postgraduate Award and International students by other scholarships.  Please contact me for further details.

Additional information

HDR Inherent Requirements

In addition to the academic requirements set out in the Science Postgraduate Handbook, you may be required to satisfy a number of inherent requirements to complete this degree. Example of inherent requirement may include:

- Confidential disclosure and registration of a disability that may hinder your performance in your degree;
- Confidential disclosure of a pre-existing or current medical condition that may hinder your performance in your degree (e.g. heart disease, pace-maker, significant immune suppression, diabetes, vertigo, etc.);
- Ability to perform independently and/or with minimal supervision;
- Ability to undertake certain physical tasks (e.g. heavy lifting);
- Ability to undertake observatory, sensory and communication tasks;
- Ability to spend time at remote sites (e.g. One Tree Island, Narrabri and Camden);
- Ability to work in confined spaces or at heights;
- Ability to operate heavy machinery (e.g. farming equipment);
- Hold or acquire an Australian driver’s licence;
- Hold a current scuba diving license;
- Hold a current Working with Children Check;
- Meet initial and ongoing immunisation requirements (e.g. Q-Fever, Vaccinia virus, Hepatitis, etc.)

You must consult with your nominated supervisor regarding any identified inherent requirements before completing your application.

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Opportunity ID

The opportunity ID for this research opportunity is 562