Bill Catterall (1946–2024)

Brad Roth
2 min readMar 29, 2024

William Catterall, known as “the father of ion channels,” died on February 28 at the age of 77. Russ Hobbie and I cite Catterall’s article on the structure of sodium ion channels in Chapter 9 of Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology.

Payandeh J, Scheuer T, Zheng N, Catterall WA (2011) The crystal structure of a voltage-gated sodium channel. Nature 475:353–358.

Catterall worked in the intramural program at the National Institutes of Health in the laboratory of Marshall Nirenberg. He then moved to the University of Washington, where he was a professor of Pharmacology for over 40 years. There he was a collaborator with Bertil Hille, the author of the landmark textbook Ion Channels of Excitable Membranes. An obituary published by the University of Washington website states

First and foremost, Bill was an exceptional scientist. He pioneered the biochemical investigation of calcium and sodium ion channels; molecular portals that allow the controlled passage of ions across cell membranes. The proper passage of ions into the cell is essential for healthy brain, heart, and muscle function. Early work from Catterall elucidated the molecular basis of ion channel gating whereas later studies with UW Pharmacology colleague Dr. Ning Zheng revealed details of how these clinically relevant macromolecular machines operate at the atomic level. With this latter information, Catterall was able to ascertain how a variety of toxins as well as local anesthetics and antiarrhythmic drugs act to “lock the gate” on these ion channels. Bill was recognized for these pivotal discoveries by election to the National Academy of Sciences USA and the Royal Society London. He also received prestigious awards including the Gairdner Award from Canada, the Robert R. Ruffolo Career Achievement Award in Pharmacology from the American Society of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Union of Pharmacologists.

To learn more, listen to Catterall discuss his work in a three-part series of lectures for iBiology.

William Catterall (U. Washington) Part 1: Electrical Signaling: Life in the Fast Lane
William Catterall (U. Washington) Part 2: Voltage-gated Na+ Channels at Atomic Resolution
William Catterall (U. Washington) Part 3: Voltage-gated Calcium Channels

Originally published at



Brad Roth

Professor of Physics at Oakland University and coauthor of the textbook Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology.