Michael Kavanaugh

Professor, Director McLaughlin Research Institute


Personal Summary

Michael Kavanaugh completed undergraduate studies at Washington University in St. Louis. He received 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 of 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 principles 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 therapeutic 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









McLaughlin Research Inst.