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Dr Brian King
Room B50
74 Huntley Street
NPP, Bloomsbury Campus
Dr Brian King profile picture
  • Honorary Associate Professor
  • Neuro, Physiology & Pharmacology
  • Div of Biosciences
  • Faculty of Life Sciences

Brian King graduated in Physiology (1976) and Pharmacology (1980) at the University of Glasgow, Scotland.  The core theme of these degree programmes was the synaptic physiology of the peripheral nervous system, allied with research projects on the discovery of inhibitory neurotransmitters in the GI tract.  His studentship was funded by the MRC.

His first academic appointment was at the Mayo Clinic (Rochester, Minnesota; 1980-85), where he joined the Department of Physiology & Biophysics to study the biophysical and signalling properties of inhibitory sympathetic neurons innervating the GI tract. After 5 years in the US, Dr. King moved first to McGill University (Montreal, Canada; 1985), then the London Hospital Medical School (London England; 1986-88), to study sensory systems of the GI tract, the gut-brain axis and peptide-based GI hormones associated with satiety and hunger.

He took time out of academia to join SmithKline Beecham (1989-92) and study the causes of the Irritable Bowel Syndrome. There, he was involved in the discovery and development of antagonists for 5-HT4 receptors, culminating in the discovery of SB204070, a 5-HT4 antagonist whch regulates the sensitivity of motor & sensory nerves in the gut.  Returning to academia (UCL,1992), he was involved in the isolation and characterization of the first of the nucleotide receptors, P2Y1, which is now known to mediate fast IJPs in the smooth muscle of the GI tract.. 

Dr. King has spent the last 28 years at UCL, studying the purinoceptor family of signalling molecules which now encompasses over 25 receptor subtypes. Dr. King sits on advisory boards for nucleotide signalling (IUPHAR P2X and P2Y Nomenclature Subcommittees) and regularly contributes to the Handbook of Receptor Classification (Sigma RBI) and Guide to Receptors and Channels (Br J Pharmacol).

Research Groups
Research Summary

Nucleotides are naturally occurring chemicals present in all living cells, where they have defined biochemical and physiological roles. The most abundant nucleotide is adenosine 5'-triphosphate (ATP), which occurs in millimolar concentrations in the cytosol and at much higher concentrations in intracellular vesicles that serve as stores for neurotransmitters. 

Inside the cytosol, intracellular ATP represents the major energy currency for biochemical metabolism. Released from the cytosol or from storage vesicles, extracellular ATP represents a way for cells to talk to each other.  ATP and its derivatives activate a large number of membrane-bound signalling proteins, collectively called the purinoceptor family. All cells possess purinoceptors and usually more than one subtype.  As a result, these receptors affect practically every aspect of human physiology.

Dr King works on the signalling properties of the mammalian purinoceptor family, mainly by expressing purinoceptors in isolation in host cells (Xenopus oocytes or 1321N1 human astrocytoma cells). Sometimes, two or more receptor subunits are expressed together to make heteromeric assemblies of signalling molecules. Occasionally, purinoceptors are co-expressed with other types of signalling proteins to investigate receptor-receptor crosstalk. Already, he and his colleagues have studied how purinoceptors affect TRPV1, ENaC and AQP2 channels.

The results of these experiments are compared with results from parallel studies of tissues and organs containing known examples of the purinoceptor family. Dr King works closely with other scientists at UCL, to model signalling systems which employ purinoceptors and to investigate unresolved issues in human physiology.

Some of his past studies have focussed the role of extracellular nucleotides in i) bone modelling and osteoporosis, ii) control of breathing, iii) tubule function in kidney, iv) blood platelet function in control of bleeding, v) astrocyte growth following brain injury, vi) signalling in sensory nerve pathways, including the ear, vi) control of the urinary bladder and vii) control of gastrointestinal motility.
Recently, Dr King's attention has returned to the "gut-brain axis", and the control of appetite and satiety by purinergic transmission in motor & sensory nerve pathways connecting the brain to the GI tract.

Teaching Summary

Dr King has been engaged in tertiary education in physiology and pharmacology to science and medical students over the past 44 years - at Glasgow University (1976-1980), Mayo Medical School (1980-1982), Mayo Graduate School (1983-1985), London Hospital Medical School (1986-1988) and UCL (1992-present). There is a research-led emphasis to his teaching and how physiological systems work together, complemented by a strong emphasis on writing and presenting scientific information (extended dissertations, lab reports as scientific papers, oral communications).

He is the module organiser for PHOL0003 (Integrative Physiology) and BIOS0006 (Writing & Presenting Bioscience), which are taken by second  ear science students.  These two modules can be taken together and represent a substantial course on Integrative Physiology for students considering a postgraduate career in life or medical sciences.

Dr King teaches extensively on regulatory and permissive roles of the Autonomic Nervous System in PHOL0003.  He also teaches integrative physiology on PHOL0001, PHOL0011 and synaptic pharmacology on PHAR0018.  He participates in Phase 1 teaching in the medical school and is currently the Chair of the Board of Examiners in Physiology.

03-JAN-2010 Affiliate Fellow Medicine UCL, United Kingdom
Academic Background
1980   Doctor of Philosophy University of Glasgow
1976   Bachelor of Science (Honours) University of Glasgow
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