Thomas Voets Lab

Research focus

Ion channels are protein-based pores present in biological membranes that open and close in response to distinct chemical or physical stimuli (a process known as channel gating), and thereby allow the regulated passage of specific ions across membranes. Ion fluxes through channels lie at the basis of rapid electrical signaling in the nervous system and other excitable cell types, mediate the swift changes in intracellular Ca2+ that provoke muscle contraction or neurotransmitter release, and are crucially involved in numerous other biological processes. The human genome encodes several hundreds of ion channels, with strongly divergent gating properties and physiological roles. Moreover, acquired or inherited malfunctioning of ion channels is the cause various diseases, such as cystic fibrosis, various neuropathies, cardiac arrhythmias, and neuropathic pain, to name a few. Ion channels are prime targets for drug therapies: about 1 in 7 drugs approved for human use have ion channels as their primary target.

Our research team focuses on one superfamily of cation channels, the transient receptor potential (TRP) channels, which includes 27 human members. There is a striking diversity in the stimuli that can regulate the gating of the TRP channels, which include physical stimuli such as temperature and voltage, as well as various endogenous and exogenous chemical ligands. In many instances, a single TRP channel is able to integrate divergent types of stimuli. These sensory properties lie at the basis of the physiological function of TRP channels as molecular sensor involved in processes such as taste perception, glucose homeostasis, bladder function, somatosensation and pain.
The general aim of our research is to unravel the fundamental mechanisms whereby TRP channels operate at the molecular and cellular level, and to elucidate how these channels contribute to various (patho)physiological processes. To achieve this, we combine state-of-the-art electrophysiological and imaging techniques with a variety of ex vivo and in vivo assays using mice and rat as model organisms, and collaborate with clinical partners to translate our fundamental findings toward medical applications. A major focus is on the function of TRP channels in peripheral sensory neurons as sensors of temperature and direct mediators of acute and chronic pain. With this research, we expect to open new therapeutic avenues for the large group of chronic pain sufferers that report inadequate pain control with currently available analgesic therapies.


Targeting TRP Channels - Valuable Alternatives to Combat Pain, Lower Urinary Tract Disorders, and Type 2 Diabetes?Voets Thomas@ Vriens Joris Vennekens RudiTRENDS IN PHARMACOLOGICAL SCIENCES, 40, 669-683, 2019@: corresponding authors
A TRP channel trio mediates acute noxious heat sensingVandewauw I De Clercq K Mulier M Held K Poseiro Coutinho Pinto S Van Ranst N Segal Stanciu A Voet T Vennekens R Zimmermann K Vriens J* Voets T*NATURE, 555, 662-666, 2018* or °: authors contributed equally
VAMP7 regulates constitutive membrane incorporation of the cold-activated channel TRPM8Ghosh D Pinto S Danglot L Vandewauw I Segal A Van Ranst N Benoit M Janssens A Vennekens R Vanden Berghe P Galli T Vriens J Voets T.Nature Communications, 7, 10489, 2016
Definition of two agonist types at the mammalian cold-activated channel TRPM8Janssens A Gees M Toth B. I Ghosh D Mulier M Vennekens R Vriens J Talavera K. Voets T.eLife, 5, , 2016
Essential role of transient receptor potential M8 (TRPM8) in a model of acute cold-induced urinary urgencyUvin P Franken J Pinto S Rietjens R Grammet L Deruyver Y Alpizar Y. A Talavera K. Vennekens R Everaerts W De Ridder D Voets T.EUROPEAN UROLOGY, 68, 655-61, 2015

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A study by Thomas Voets and his team heats up our understanding of ion channels

19/07/2018 - The teams of Thomas Voets (VIB-KU Leuven Center for Brain & Disease Research) and Joris Vriens (KU Leuven) have successfully published a boundary-pushing paper on mammalian heat-sensing channels in the high-impact journal Nature.

Thomas Voets

Thomas Voets

Research area(s)

Model organism(s)


​​PhD: KU Leuven, Leuven, Belgium, 1998
Postdoc: Max Planck Inst. for Biophysical Chemistry, Göttingen, Germany, 1998-01
Professor: Dept. Cellular & Molecular Med., KU Leuven, Leuven, Belgium since 2002
VIB Group leader as of July 2017

Contact Info

VIB-KU Leuven Center for Brain & Disease ResearchO&N 4, 6e verdCampus GasthuisbergHerestraat 49, bus 602 3000 LEUVENRoute description