In diffusion-based molecular communication (DMC), a transmitter nanomachine is responsible for signal modulation. Thereby, the transmitter has to be able to control the release of the signaling molecules employed for representing the transmitted information. In nature, an important class of control mechanisms for releasing molecules from cells utilizes ion channels which are pore-forming proteins across the cell membrane. The opening and closing of the ion channels is controlled by a gating parameter. In this paper, an ion channel based modulator for DMC is proposed which controls the rate of molecule release from the transmitter by modulating a gating parameter signal. Exploiting the capabilities of the proposed modulator, an on-off keying modulation technique is introduced and the corresponding average modulated signal, i.e., the average release rate of the molecules from the transmitter, is analyzed. However, since the modulated signal is random in nature, it may deviate from its average. Therefore, the concept of modulator noise is introduced and the statistics of the modulated signal are investigated. Finally, by assuming a simple transparent receiver, the performance of the proposed on-off keying modulation format is studied. The derived analytical expressions for the average modulated signal are confirmed with particle based simulations. Our numerical results reveal that performance estimates of DMC systems obtained based on the assumption of instantaneous molecule release at the transmitter may substantially deviate from the performance achieved with practical modulators.
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