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Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience



At the University of Utah, a highly interactive group of department faculty is investigating the cellular mechanisms underlying the actions of psychostimulants, including methamphetamine, amphetamine and cocaine, and the dynamics of brain neurotransmitter and neuropeptide systems. These investigators are also seeking to understand mechanisms of tolerance, dependence, addiction, and neurotoxicity associated with these agents, using cutting-edge in vitro and in vivo approaches ranging from examination of gene transcription in individual neurons, to assessment of the trafficking of proteins at a sub-cellular level, to evaluation of the behavior of the whole animal. This work also is focused on increasing our understanding of how neurotransmitters and neuropeptides interact in to provide new insights into disorders involving the basal ganglia, such as Parkinson's Disease, addiction, Tourette syndrome, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Faculty in the Anticonvulsant Drug Development Program are in the forefront of research directed towards identifying new drugs for the symptomatic treatment of epilepsy and for the prevention of epilepsy. Because more recently introduced drugs for treatment of seizure disorders have shown efficacy in other disorders, such as pain and bipolar disease, this program is expanding its efforts in these areas, as well. Investigations employ a battery of sophisticated behavioral and electrophysiological tests to study the effects and mechanisms of action of these drugs. Studies at the genetic level examine a variety of genes that encode proteins whose function may be critical for understanding epilepsy and other neurological disorders such as neuropathic pain.

Faculty in the area of neuroendocrinology seek to identify and characterize the actions of brain neurotransmitters and neuropeptides that regulate the secretion of hormones from the anterior and posterior pituitary gland, which in turn influence reproduction and cardiovascular function. The diverse areas under investigation include studies on brain peptides involved in regulating pituitary hormone secretion during pregnancy and lactation and the body's energy balance (food intake and energy expenditure). Research is also directed at understanding how epileptic seizures can alter cardiovascular regulation, potentially leading to sudden death, and how epileptic seizures disrupt neuroendocrine regulation. Collaborative studies with other faculty also are examining how psychostimulants, such as methamphetamine, influence systems regulating reproduction and development.

Faculty in the Center for Human Toxicology have developed highly sensitive and specific assay methods for detecting drugs of abuse in a variety of human and animal tissues, which makes possible detailed studies on how these drugs are distributed and metabolized in the body. Additional research by this group focusses on understanding mechanisms related to tolerance to the neurotoxicity of substituted amphetamines.


Dr. Kristen Keefe

Dr. Karen Wilcox

Dr. Diana Wilkins

Dr. Cameron Metcalf

Dr. Marco Bortolato

Dr. Misty Smith

Dr. Peter West