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Possible magneto-mechanical and magneto-thermal mechanisms of ion channel activation in magnetogenetics

  1. Mladen Barbic  Is a corresponding author
  1. Howard Hughes Medical Institute, United States
Research Article
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Cite this article as: eLife 2019;8:e45807 doi: 10.7554/eLife.45807


The palette of tools for perturbation of neural activity is continually expanding. On the forefront of this expansion is magnetogenetics, where ion channels are genetically engineered to be closely coupled to the iron-storage protein ferritin. Initial reports on magnetogenetics have sparked a vigorous debate on the plausibility of physical mechanisms of ion channel activation by means of external magnetic fields. The criticism leveled against magnetogenetics as being physically implausible is based on the specific assumptions about the magnetic spin configurations of iron in ferritin. I consider here a wider range of possible spin configurations of iron in ferritin and the consequences these might have in magnetogenetics. I propose several new magneto-mechanical and magneto-thermal mechanisms of ion channel activation that may clarify some of the mysteries that presently challenge our understanding of the reported biological experiments. Finally, I present some additional puzzles that will require further theoretical and experimental investigation.

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All results in this study are either theoretical calculations or numerical calculations.

Article and author information

Author details

  1. Mladen Barbic

    Janelia Research Campus, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Ahsburn, United States
    For correspondence
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0003-1511-1910


Howard Hughes Medical Institute

  • Mladen Barbic

Howard Hughes Medical Institute

  • Mladen Barbic

The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.

Reviewing Editor

  1. David Kleinfeld, University of California, San Diego, United States

Publication history

  1. Received: February 5, 2019
  2. Accepted: July 28, 2019
  3. Accepted Manuscript published: August 2, 2019 (version 1)
  4. Version of Record published: August 14, 2019 (version 2)


© 2019, Barbic

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License permitting unrestricted use and redistribution provided that the original author and source are credited.


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