Bertil Hille (born October 10, 1940) is a professor in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics at the University of Washington. He is particularly well known for his research and expertise on cell signalling by ion channels.
Hille was born in New Haven, Connecticut. His father is Carl Einar Hille, a Yale math professor and a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. He attended the Foote School and Westminster School (Connecticut) and received his B.S. summa cum laude in Zoology from Yale University (1962) and his Ph.D. in Life Sciences from The Rockefeller University (1967). During his PhD, Hille started his long-term collaboration with Clay Armstrong, who he shared many awards with several decades later. After completing his Ph.D, Hille did postdoc research with Sir Alan L. Hodgkin (1963 Nobel laureate for the basis of nerve action potentials) and Richard Keynes at the University of Cambridge, England.
He is married to Merrill Burr Hille, Professor Emerita of Biology at the University of Washington, and has two sons, Erik Darwin Hille and Jon Trygve Grey.
Bertil Hille pioneered the concept of ion channels as membrane proteins forming gated aqueous pores (with Clay Armstrong). He showed that Na+ and K+ channels of axons can be distinguished by drugs such as tetrodotoxin and tetraethylammonium ion, and that their ionic selectivity can be understood by a limiting pore size, the selectivity filter, and by movements of ions through a series of saturable sites. He showed that local anesthetics enter Na+ channels in a state-dependent manner.
In 1984, Hille started a new direction of studying the modulation of ion channels by G protein-coupled receptors. He distinguished two new signaling pathways for excitable cells. A fast, pertussis toxin-sensitive pathway turned on inward rectifier K+ channels and turned off Ca2+ channels by G protein G subunits. A slow, pertussis toxin-insensitive pathway turned off some K+ and Ca2+ channels by depleting the plasma membrane phosphoinositides, phosphatidylinositol 4,5-bisphosphate (PIP2). New tools and findings from the Hille lab, together with the initial finding (1996) from Donald W. Hilgemann's lab at UT southwestern, demonstrated that PIP2 is an essential cofactor for many ion channels and transporters. The low-abundance signaling lipid PIP2 indeed plays a significant role in regulating neuronal and cardiac excitability.
In addition to his significant research contributions (~22,000 paper citations), he is the author of several editions of Ion Channels of Excitable Membranes, described as the widely used key textbook on ion channels. Hille's book is known for its clarity and precise language, for its attention to the history of neural membrane research, and for the breadth and depth of its scientific coverage.
Hille has supervised and trained 18 PhD students and more than 50 postdoctoral fellows, most of whom have become major independent investigators in academia and industry.