Founded in 1966, the Department of Physiology and Membrane Biology is one of five basic science departments in the UC Davis School of Medicine.

Our tripartite mission is to conduct innovative, cutting edge research, engage in high-level service and provide excellent educational opportunities and mentoring to students, postdoctoral fellows, and residents in the discipline of physiology. Our aim is to create new knowledge to advance understanding of biological processes and benefit society by facilitating more precise diagnosis, and effective disease treatment.

In the post molecular and post genome eras, Physiology is uniquely posed at the nexus to employ these new tools to gain a more detailed understanding of function at the molecular level or to investigate the functional consequences of alterations in gene products at the cellular, organ and organismal levels. Scientifically we are determined to access and exploit these unprecedented opportunities!

Undergraduate course on the 'Physiology of Cannabis' offered this spring at UC Davis

A new undergraduate course on “Physiology of Cannabis” (HPH 115) will be offered at UC Davis this spring to raise awareness and understanding of how cannabis and cannabinoids affect the body.

Designed for students in the biological sciences, the three-unit course will cover the biology of cannabis and cannabinoids as well as their physiological effects in multiple systems, underlying mechanisms and therapeutic values. It also will survey the history of cannabis use, cover the endocannabinoid system and discuss potential medical targets for cannabis and their relative effectiveness.

“This course is one of the few taught on an American college campus with a dedicated theme on the biology, physiology and medicinal effects of cannabis and cannabinoids,” said Yu-Fung Lin, Ph.D., departmental faculty member who is teaching the course.

“It is also the first course offered on the UC Davis campus, and likely within the entire UC system,” she said.

Twenty-eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for a variety of medical uses, and eight of those states plus the district have also legalized it for recreational use. California voters legalized medical marijuana in 1996 and recreational marijuana for persons aged 21 years or older in 2016.

“The timing could not be better to give students the opportunity to have a profound understanding about the physiology and medical implications of cannabis use,” said Luis Fernando Santana, Ph.D., departmental chair and faculty member.

Lin, who also has a joint appointment in the Department Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine, is preparing a similar course specifically for UC Davis medical students. Lin and Santana also hope the courses will be a blueprint for educating the general public about cannabis as well.

The Department of Physiology and Membrane Biology is one of five basic science departments at the UC Davis School of Medicine. Department faculty aim to create new knowledge to advance understanding of biological processes and benefit society by facilitating more precise diagnosis and effective disease treatment. They conduct innovative, leading-edge research and provide excellent educational opportunities and mentoring to students, postdoctoral fellows and residents.

Read more on UC Davis News page and The Davis Enterprise.



For more department news see: Department News »

American Physiological Society (APS) Fellow

Martha E. O'Donnell, Ph.D.Departmental faculty member Martha E. O'Donnell, Ph.D. has been approved as a Fellow of the American Physiological Society. The rank of Fellow is designed to honor distinguished members who have demonstrated excellence in science, contributed to the physiological sciences and served the Society. Fellows are considered to be in the top tier of all eligible members. Congratulations!!


TRPV4 in the battle of the sexes

Luis Fernando Santana, Ph.D.The recent paper by the departmental chair and faculty member Luis Fernando Santana, Ph.D., along with Sendoa Tajada, Ph.D., a researcher from his lab, has been accepted for publication in the Journal of General Physiology.

This article has been recommended in F1000Prime as being of special significance in its field by F1000 Faculty Member Mark Dell’Acqua. Read more about this recommendation from here »

Abstract: New JGP paper explains sexual dimorphism and tissue-specific activity of TRPV4.

The broadly expressed transient receptor potential vanilloid 4 (TRPV4) calcium channel allows an enormous amount of calcium into the cell (up to 100-fold greater calcium flux than those produced by voltage-gated Cav1.2 calcium channels; 1). In vascular smooth muscle, TRPV4 channels help regulate vascular tone. In this month’s JGP, Tajada et al. provide surprising new insights about how TRPV4 activity is regulated.

Read more about this paper here »


Structural Insights into the Atomistic Mechanisms of Action of Small Molecule Inhibitors Targeting the KCa3.1 Channel Pore

Vladimir Yarov-Yarovoy, Ph.D.The recent paper by the department faculty member, Vladimir Yarov-Yarovoy, Ph.D., has been featured on the cover of April 2017 issue of Molecular Pharmacology.

Abstract: The intermediate-conductance Ca2+-activated K+ channel (KCa3.1) constitutes an attractive pharmacological target for immunosuppression, fibroproliferative disorders, atherosclerosis, and stroke. However, there currently is no available crystal structure of this medically relevant channel that could be used for structure-assisted drug design. Using the Rosetta molecular modeling suite we generated a molecular model of the KCa3.1 pore and tested the model by first confirming previously mapped binding sites and visualizing the mechanism of TRAM-34, senicapoc, and NS6180 inhibition at the atomistic level. All three compounds block ion conduction directly by fully or partially occupying the site that would normally be occupied by K+ before it enters the selectivity filter. We then challenged the model to predict the receptor sites and mechanisms of action of the dihydropyridine nifedipine and an isosteric 4-phenyl-pyran. Rosetta predicted receptor sites for nifedipine in the fenestration region and for the 4-phenyl-pyran in the pore lumen, which could both be confirmed by site-directed mutagenesis and electrophysiology. While nifedipine is thus not a pore blocker and might be stabilizing the channel in a nonconducting conformation or interfere with gating, the 4-phenyl-pyran was found to be a classical pore blocker that directly inhibits ion conduction similar to the triarylmethanes TRAM-34 and senicapoc. The Rosetta KCa3.1 pore model explains the mechanism of action of several KCa3.1 blockers at the molecular level and could be used for structure-assisted drug design.

Read more about this paper at the following links:


Sue Bodine, Ph.D. Keith Baar, Ph.D.

The National Institutes of Health announced a six-year, $170 million nationwide project to dig deep into the molecular changes that come from physical activity, and how they influence health. Departmental faculty members, Sue Bodine, Ph.D. and Keith Baar, Ph.D., are taking part in the effort.

Read more on UC Davis News page and SacBee.


Keith Baar, Ph.D. A new study suggests that consuming a gelatin supplement, plus a burst of intensive exercise, can help build ligaments, tendons and bones.

The study, from departmental faculty member Keith Baar, Ph.D. and his Functional Molecular Biology Laboratory, is published in the January issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Read more about the article here.


Sue Bodine, Ph.D. The American Physiological Society announced that departmental faculty member Sue Bodine, Ph.D., will be the next Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Applied Physiology. Her term begins July 1, 2017.


Aldrin Gomes, Ph.D. Departmental faculty member Aldrin Gomes, Ph.D., has been selected as 2016-2017 Chancellor's Fellow. The Chancellor's Fellows Program was established in 2000 to honor the achievements of outstanding faculty members for the quality and significance of their research and teaching.



For more department news see: Department News »