Areas of Research
Research in the Department of Pharmacology
What types of research are conducted in the Department of Pharmacology? In the broadest sense, each research program contributes to our understanding of how molecules alter the function of cells and organisms. More specifically, the collective research of our faculty can be thought of as addressing key fundamental mechanisms that underlie pharmacology, physiology, and the molecular basis of disease.
Life depends upon the use of small molecules and peptides to communicate between cells and organisms. How these small molecules and peptides are converted into readable messages that alter cellular function is a large focus within our department. Our research examines how molecules and peptides interact with receptors, how these receptors convert the binding into an intracellular signal, how kinases and phosphatases control that signal, how ubiquitinating and deubiquitinating enzymes interface and regulate the signal, and how the signal is converted into gene-expression changes.
Behavior and memory are intimately linked with the underlying physiology of individual neurons. How neurons develop, the plasticity through which their connections can be reshaped by experience, and the underlying physiology of neurons are well studied in the department as a way to understand behavior and memory. A number of different labs in the department focus their studies on the generation and regulation of electrical impulses in nerves, how signaling molecules are transmitted between neurons, how small molecules alter neuronal chemistry and physiology, how receptors and channels interact, and the molecular basis for neuroplasticity and its modulation through experience.
Drug and alcohol abuse and addiction is a rampant health problem in today's society. Understanding the underlying molecular components that define drug and alcohol addiction behavior will provide insight into ways that addiction can be treated more effectively. A number of different labs in the department use mice with various genetic lesions to examine the role of genes thought to be important for alcohol, opioid, cannabinoid or psychostimulant drug action.
Stem cells are primal cells that have the capacity for self-renewal. They can also differentiate into a broad range of diverse cell types, making them ideal for tissue regeneration. Research in the department focuses on understanding the pathways that signal stem cells to differentiate into different cell types, how this differentiation is used for regeneration, and how stem cells might be used as a therapeutic tool in various degenerative human diseases like Alzheimer's.
Each cell requires exquisite regulation of its genetic complement to ensure proper physiology, maintenance of the correct developmental state, and elicit the proper response to external signaling cues. How genes are activated or inactivated, or kept in the appropriate active, inactive, or silenced state is another interest within the department. Gene regulation research in the department includes understanding how transcription is initiated, maintained, and terminated, how gene silencing is regulated, how DNA is repaired, and how chromatin higher structure contributes to these important functions.
Proteins adopt defined structures, and those structures dictate protein function. Understanding a protein's structure can provide key insights into function, including how protein complexes assemble, how small molecules interact with proteins to alter their structure and function, and how residues are arranged in space to bring about catalytic activity or binding capacity.
An important aspect of research in the department is to understand the underlying biology for many different human diseases and disorders, with the hope that this will provide significant insights into developing small molecule therapies that can prevent or alleviate these conditions. Many different labs are gaining insights into the biological basis for diseases such as muscular dystrophy, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, Huntington's, cancer, heart disease, and obesity.