Michael Kavanaugh

Michael Kavanaugh

Professor, Director McLaughlin Research Institute

Home Department: Biological Sciences
Office: Health Sciences 308

Current Position

PHAR 443 Pharmacology and Toxicology

BIOH 458 Neuroscience Research

BIOH 280 Molecules to Mind- Fundamentals of Neuroscience


Personal Summary

Michael Kavanaugh completed undergraduate studies at Washington University in St. Louis. He receieved his Ph.D. in Biochemistry in 1987 from the Oregon Health Sciences University. He pursued a postdoctoral fellowship at the Vollum Institute at OHSU, and joined the faculty of the medical school in 1993. He moved to the University of Montana in 2003, and serves as director ot the Center for Structural and Functional Neuroscience. He has served on Neuroscience, Biophysics, and Fellowship review panels for the National Institutes of Health, and is the recipient of neuroscience research awards including a Klingenstein Fellowship and a senior Wellcome Fellowship from Oxford University.

Research Interests

Research in the Kavanaugh laboratory focuses on the roles of transporters, receptors, and ion channels in the brain. The work integrates electrophysiological, molecular, and behavioral approaches. The overarching goal of the lab is to understand the structure, function, and biophysical properties of these membrane proteins in order to link molecular properties to cellular and circuit level functions.

In the brain, neurons communication by synaptic transmission, which occurs when neurotransmitter is released into the synaptic cleft between two neurons. Glutamate is the major excitatory neurotransmitter in the brain, and when it binds to postsynaptic receptors it activates electrical signals leading to processes ranging from perception to learning and memory. Following activation of postsynaptic receptors, neurotransmitter is cleared away by selective transporters which terminate signaling.

Research in Kavanaugh's lab has helped establish priciples for how the transporters for glutamate and other neurotransmitters work, and how they cooperate with ion channels to regulate synaptic signaling in both normal and disease processes. In collaboration with synthetic chemists, the team is also developing and testing new drugs that target transporters for theraputic and diagnostic applications.


Field of Study

Neurobiology, physiology, molecular pharmacology 

Selected Publications

Selected Publications (h-index=52; full list at

Foster, A.C., Farnsworth, J., Lind, G.E., Li, Y-X., Yang, J., Dang, V., Penjwini, M., Viswanath, V., Staubli, U., Kavanaugh, M.P. (2016) D-Serine is a substrate for neutral amino acid transporters ASCT1 and ASCT2, and is transported by both sub-types in rat hippocampal astrocyte cultures. PLoS ONE (in press)

Sun W., Shchepakin D., Kalachev L.V., Kavanaugh M.P. (2014) Glutamate transporter control of ambient glutamate levels. Neurochem Int 73, 146

Calderón-Garcidueñas, L., Franco-Lira, M., Mora-Tiscareño, A., Medina-Cortina, H., Torres-Jardón, R., Kavanaugh, M.P., 2013. Early Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease pathology in urban children. Biomed Res Int 2013, 161687.

Leary GP, Holley DC, Stone EF, Lyda BR, Kalachev LV, Kavanaugh MP (2011) The central cavity in trimeric glutamate transporters restricts ligand diffusion. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A.108:14980

Sun W, Hoffman KM, Holley DC, Kavanaugh MP (2011) Specificity and actions of an arylaspartate inhibitor of glutamate transport at the Schaffer collateral-CA1 pyramidal cell synapse. PLoS ONE 6:e23765

Otis TS, Kavanaugh MP, Jahr CE (1997) Postsynaptic glutamate transport at the climbing fiber-Purkinje cell synapse. Science 277:1515-1518

Zerangue N, Kavanaugh MP (1996) Flux coupling in a neuronal glutamate transporter. Nature 383:634

Fairman WA, Vandenberg RJ, Arriza JL, Kavanaugh MP, Amara SG (1995) An excitatory amino-acid transporter with properties of a ligand-gated chloride channel. Nature 375:599-603








Research Summary

Transporters and ion channels, membrane proteins involved in solute uptake and signaling in neurons and other cells

Home Department

Department of Biomedical & Pharmaceutical Sciences, Center for Structural & Functional Neuroscience

Specialized Research Interests

Neurotransmitter transport and synaptic physiology; neuronal signaling, mechanisms of learning and memory.

Neuroscience Courses

BIOH 280 - Fundamentals of Neuroscience
BIOH 483W - Neuroscience Research Lab

Area of Expertise

Neuroscience; Synaptic Neurophisiology; Brain Function


McLaughlin Research Inst.