Biosciences Graduate Program

Alan R. Kay, BS, BS, BS, PhD


Professor of Biology

Contact Information

Office: 330 BB
Iowa City, IA 52242
Phone: 319-335-172

Web: More About Dr. Kay - Related Websites and Resources


BS, Chemistry & Biochemistry, University Cape Town
BS, Chemistry, University Cape Town
BS, Biochemistry, University Stellenbosch
PhD, Zoology, University Cambridge

Post Doctorate, Neuroscience, UNIV OF TEXAS-MEDICAL BRANCH

Education/Training Program Affiliations

Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Neuroscience
Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Translational Biomedicine
Medical Scientist Training Program

Research Summary

The brain is an inordinately complicated device. Myriads of neurons converse with one another in a language beyond our ken and somehow from this hubbub of voices emerge all the attributes of mind. It is our belief that optical imaging techniques for following simultaneously the activity of groups of neurons are essential for comprehending the neocortical code. Our approach is twofold: firstly, through the development of fluorimetric imaging probes and secondly, through the rather unexpected avenue of synaptic zinc. A high concentration of high ionic zinc in synpatic vesicles is a prominent feature of some of the excitatory pathways in the mammalian forebrain. Despite the wealth of information on its distribution, and its role in metalloenzymes and proteins, the role of intravesicular zinc remains enigmatic, and serves as one of the foci of our research. Zinc is co-released with gluatmate during synaptic transmission and because the intravesicular concentration is estimated to exceed 0.3 mM, transient elevations of Zn in the tens of micromolar are anticipated in the synaptic cleft. Fluorimetric Zn-probes could thus be used to follow glutaminergic neurotransmission. We currently focus on the following problems: What is the role of the vesicular Zn found in certain glutaminergic neurons? Can Zn act as a second messenger? How does Zn make its way from the extracellular space to populate proteins and the synaptic vesicles? We bring an array of approaches to bear on these questions: electrophysiology (current and voltage clamp) in brain slices, acutely dissociated neurons & frog oocyte, fluorescent spectroscopy and imaging, nanochemistry and nonlinear dynamics. An additional focus of our research is on the development of new techniques for exploring the neurophysiology of the cerebral cortex. We have given particular attention to developing techniques for imaging neuronal activity, because it provides a possible way of visualizing the choreography of ensembles of neurons during activity, as it is probably the spatio-temporal pattern of neural activity that is at the heart of mental activity. We are developing new chemical probes for imaging neuronal activity, transition metals and ways of delivering these probes to specific cellular populations.

Date Last Modified: 06/06/2016 - 13:17:48