Investigating Cellular and Physiological Properties of Nicotine
Ryan Drenan, PhD, associate professor of Pharmacology, investigates the critical cellular and physiological properties associated with nicotine.Watch this video
Neuropharmacology is the study of how drugs affect the molecular, cellular or behavioral functions of the central and peripheral nervous system. Faculty in our department use modern tools of neuroscience to investigate fundamental brain processes implicated in several neurological disorders — including epilepsy, addiction, ataxia, dystonia, intellectual disability, Parkinson's disease, neuropathic pain and Alzheimer's disease — then translate this knowledge into discovery and development of novel therapeutic strategies.
Jennifer Kearney, PhD, associate professor of Pharmacology, works in conjunction with the clinicians at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and the Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago to learn how an individual’s genetic background influences epilepsy.Watch this video
Loukia Parisiadou, PhD, assistant professor of Pharmacology, uses a multidisciplinary approach spanning cellular, molecular, network and behavioral levels to understand the molecular basis of Parkinson’s disease.Watch this video
Daniel Martin Watterson, PhD, professor of pharmacology and John G. Searle Professor of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, studies biological mechanisms important in how cells communicate with each other. The work is advancing basic and translational knowledge about critical biological processes and molecules that regulate physiological pathways, and how they are altered in diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, brain injury and cancer. The goal is to develop novel drug treatments that can intervene in disease progression.
Paul DeCaen, PhD, assistant professor of Pharmacology, studies why a class of proteins called ion channels cause diseases. His goal is to intervene with these diseases and either keep them from happening, or perhaps, control them after they've already manifested.
Genetic causes and pathogenic mechanism that underlie epilepsy
The primary goal of our research is to use gene discovery and molecular biology approaches to identify new treatments for epilepsy. We aim to 1) identify the genetic causes of epilepsy, 2) use stem cell models to understand how genetic mutations can cause epilepsy, 3) develop and test new therapeutics for this condition. Our work is based on the promise of precision medicine where knowledge of an individual’s genetic makeup shapes a personalized approach to care and management of epilepsy.
Please see Dr. Caraveo Piso's publications on PubMed.
Studying ion channel relevance in cell biology and disease progression
We study the biophysics, pharmacology and physiology of ion channels. Currently, we are focused on two divergent groups: voltage gated sodium channels (Nav) and Polycystin channels (also called Polycystic Kidney Disease Proteins, PKDs). Aside from these foci, we actively explore novel ion channels found in prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells with the goal of understanding their function in cell physiology.
Navs conduct sodium ions into excitable cells like muscle and neurons, causing the cell membrane to depolarize on the microsecond time scale, a process essential for rapid communication in multicellular organisms. Potentially fatal conditions such as forms of epilepsy and cardiac arrhythmias arise when Navs are mutated.
With our collaborators, we continue to examine key questions:
Mutations in PKD1 and PKD2 are associated with Autosomal Dominant Kidney Disease (ADPKD). ADPKD is one of the most common monogenetic diseases in mankind, where progressive cyst formation results in kidney failure. Several members of the polycystins (PKD1, PKD1-L1, PKD2 and PKD2-L1) have been found in the primary cilia from cells of various tissues besides the kidney. The primary cilium is a solitary, small (5-15 mM in length) protuberance from the apical side of polarized cells.
With help from our collaborators, our research is directed to answer key questions:
See Dr. DeCaen's publications on PubMed.
Contact Dr. DeCaen at 312-503-5930.
Studying the neuropharmacology and neurobiology of cholinergic neurotransmission in the brain
Pharmacology is a powerful discipline the seeks to understand how drugs and biologics interact with biological systems such as receptors, cells, networks, and behaving animals. Optical techniques are useful in pharmacology, as light can often be harnessed and delivered to experimental system in ways that overcome certain challenges and allow new insights to be made.
In the Drenan lab, we are employing several advanced optical approaches in our studies of nicotinic acetylcholine receptor neurobiology. We use 2-photon laser scanning microscopy (2PLSM) to image important types of neurons that contribute to nicotine reward and withdrawal. Typically, this is done during simultaneous electrophysiological (patch clamp) recordings. We also combine 2PLSM with “uncaging” approaches that allow us to precisely interrogate nicotinic receptor function in neurons, with subcellular resolution. We are
uncovering new details pertaining to cholinergic biology and nicotine addiction with these new tools and approaches. In collaboration with Dr. Luke Lavis (JaneliaFarms HHMI), we are characterizing photoactivatable nicotine molecules during imaging/recording. These probes can be "uncaged" with 405 nm light from epi-illumination sources, or lasers.
Tobacco addiction is a serious threat to public health, and development of new therapeutic approaches is a major priority. Nicotine activates and/or desensitizes nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) throughout the brain. nAChRs in the mesolimbic dopamine (DA) pathway are crucial for the rewarding and reinforcing properties of nicotine in rodent models, suggesting that they may be key mediators of nicotine’s action in humans. We use a variety of approaches to study the specific nAChR subunits and subtypes that mediate cholinergic modulation of DA circuits. A key aspect that we are engaged in is elucidating the identity and function of nAChRs in the various cell types within the midbrain reward system. For example, we use Cre/lox methods to identify dopamine-, glutamate-, and GABA-producing neurons in the ventral tegmental area, allowing us to make targeted electrophysiological recordings, image cellular events, and conduct gene expression analyses. We also employ DREADD technology, optogenetics, 2-photon laser scanning microscopy, uncaging techniques, and behavioral methods. Identifying the nAChRs in this pathway will strengthen our understanding of cholinergic control of reward system transmission, and could lead to novel therapeutic approaches for smoking cessation.
There is a significant unmet need for more effective strategies to treat nicotine dependence. Nicotine exposure produces physical dependence, and the physical and/or emotional nicotine withdrawal symptoms – as compared to the rewarding effects of nicotine – are often the most important contributors to relapse. Unfortunately, a critical gap in knowledge exists regarding our understanding of how chronic nicotine exposure establishes physical dependence and therefore makes smokers highly susceptible to relapse. In this project, we use mouse models to study the medial habenula (MHB), a small brain area in the epithalamic regionthat has recently been implicated in nicotine withdrawal, and which expresses extraordinarily high levels of several types of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs). We are identifying the relevant nAChRs and MHB circuits involved in nicotine dependence and withdrawal. This study will help us solve the problem of understanding how cessation of nicotine intake causes the brain to generate aversive physical and emotional withdrawal responses that inevitably lead to relapse.
For lab information and more, see Dr. Drenan's faculty profile.
See Dr. Drenan's publications on PubMed.
Contact Dr. Drenan at 312-503-4956.
Investigating the structure, function, pharmacology and molecular genetics of ion channels and channelopathies
Ion channels are ubiquitous membrane proteins that serve a variety of important physiological functions, provide targets for many types of pharmacological agents and are encoded by genes that can be the basis for inherited diseases affecting the heart, skeletal muscle and nervous system.
Dr. George's research program is focused on the structure, function, pharmacology and molecular genetics of ion channels. He is an internationally recognized leader in the field of channelopathies based on his important discoveries on inherited muscle disorders (periodic paralysis, myotonia), inherited cardiac arrhythmias (congenital long-QT syndrome) and genetic epilepsies. Dr. George’s laboratory was first to determine the functional consequences of a human cardiac sodium channel mutation associated with an inherited cardiac arrhythmia. His group has elucidated the functional and molecular consequences of several brain sodium channel mutations that cause various familial epilepsies and an inherited form of migraine. These finding have motivated pharmacological studies designed to find compounds that suppress aberrant functional behaviors caused by mutations.
For lab information and more, see Dr. George’s faculty profile
See Dr. George's publications on PubMed.
Contact Dr. George at 312-503-4892.
Investigating the genetic basis of epilepsy
My research program is focused on studying the genetic basis of epilepsy, a common neurological disorder that affects approximately 1% of the population. Epilepsy is thought to have a genetic basis in approximately two-thirds of patients, including a small fraction caused by single gene mutations. Many genes responsible for rare, monogenic epilepsy have been identified. The genes identified are components of neuronal signaling, including voltage-gated ion channels, neurotransmitter receptors, ion-channel associated proteins and synaptic proteins. We use mouse models with mutations in ion channel genes to understand the underlying molecular basis of epilepsy and to identify modifier genes that influence phenotype severity by modifying disease risk. Identifying genes that influence epilepsy risk improves our understanding of the underlying pathophysiology and suggests novel targets for therapeutic intervention.
For lab information and more, see Dr. Kearney's faculty profile.
See Dr. Kearney's publications on PubMed.
Contact Dr. Kearney at 312-503-4894.
Focusing on the biology of neural stem cells and growth factors and their potential for regenerating the damaged or diseased nervous system.
The Kessler laboratory focuses on the biology of neural stem cells and growth factors and their potential for regenerating the damaged or diseased nervous system. A major interest of the laboratory has been the role of bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) signaling in both neurogenesis and gliogenesis and in regulating cell numbers in the developing nervous system. Both multipotent neural stem cells and pluripotent embryonic stem cells are studied in the laboratory. Recent efforts have emphasized studies of human embryonic stem cells (hESC) and human induced pluripotent stem cells (hIPSC). The Kessler lab oversees the Northwestern University ESC and IPSC core and multiple collaborators use the facility. In addition to the studies of the basic biology of stem cells, the laboratory seeks to develop techniques for promoting neural repair in animal models of spinal cord injury and stroke. In particular, the lab is examining how stem cells and self-assembling peptide amphiphiles can be used together to accomplish neural repair. The lab is also using hIPSCs to model Alzheimer’s disease and other disorders.
For more information see the faculty profile of John A Kessler, MD.
View Dr. Kessler's full list of publications in PubMed.
The Kume Lab’s research interests focus on cardiovascular development, cardiovascular stem/progenitor cells and angiogenesis.
Cardiovascular development is at the center of all the work that goes on in the Kume lab. The cardiovascular system is the first functional unit to form during embryonic development and is essential for the growth and nurturing of other developing organs. Failure to form the cardiovascular system often leads to embryonic lethality and inherited disorders of the cardiovascular system are quite common in humans. The causes and underlying developmental mechanisms of these disorders, however, are poorly understood. A particular emphasis in our laboratory has recently been the study of cardiovascular signaling pathways and transcriptional regulation in physiological and pathological settings using mice as animal models, as well as embryonic stem (ES) cells as an in vitro differentiation system. The ultimate goal of our research is to provide new insights into the mechanisms that lead to the development of therapeutic strategies designed to treat clinically relevant conditions of pathological neovascularization.
View Dr. Kume's publications on PubMed.
For more information, visit the faculty profile for Tsutomu Kume, PhD.
Contact Dr. Kume at 312-503-0623 or the Kume Lab at 312-503-3008.
Our laboratory investigates the molecular and physiological mechanisms underlying neuropathic pain in hereditary and acquired peripheral neuropathies with particular focus on Painful Diabetic Neuropathy (PDN).
PDN is a debilitating affliction present in 26% of diabetic patients with substantial impact on their quality of life. Despite this significant prevalence and impact, current therapies for PDN are only partially effective. Moreover, the molecular and electrophysiological mechanisms underlying neuropathic pain in diabetes are not well understood.
Neuropathic pain is caused by sustained excitability in sensory neurons which reduces the pain threshold, so that pain is produced in the absence of appropriate stimuli. Towards designing more effective therapeutics, our goal is to identify the molecular and physiological mechanisms that shape sustained excitability in sensory neurons responsible for the transition to neuropathic pain in peripheral neuropathies. More specifically we are investigating the role of molecules involved in inflammation such as chemokine and the potential role of microRNAs.
We take advantage of an integrated approach combining pain behavioral tests, electrophysiology studies including current clamp recordings, in vitro and in vivo calcium imaging studies, confocal studies with conditional and transgenic mouse genetic and chemo-genetic silencing of sensory neuron subtypes using mutated hM4D receptor (DREADD) receptors.
For more publication information see PubMed and for more information see the faculty profile of Daniela Maria Menichella, MD/PhD.
Daniela Maria Menichella, MD, PhD, at 312-503-3223
Studying molecular aspects of nerve cell communication and neurodegenerative disease
Colocalization of Nestin and GFAP in the DG of Nestin-EGFP Transgenic Reporter Mice
The laboratory led by Richard Miller, PhD, is interested in studying molecular aspects of nerve cell communication. One of our major interests has been to understand the structure and function of calcium channels. The influx of Ca into neurons through these channels is important for many reasons, including the release of neurotransmitters. We have identified a family of molecules that act as Ca channels in neurons and other types of cells. Each of these molecules has slightly different properties that underly different neuronal functions. We have analysed the properties of these molecules by examining their electrophysiological properties following their expression in heterologous expression systems and imaging techniques. Furthermore, we have generated calcium channel knockout mice that have interesting properties such as altered pain thressholds, seizures and memory defecits. We have also been interested in how Ca channels can be regulated by the activation of Gprotein coupled receptors. We have been analyzing the interaction of Gprotein subunits with Ca channels using FRET imaging and other techniques.
Other projects in our laboratory are aim to understanding the molecular basis of neurodegenerative disease. We study Alzheimer's disease, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease), HIV-1 related dementia and other neuropathological conditions. In the case of HIV-1 infection, we have been examining the properties and functions of HIV-1 receptors on neurons. These receptors are known to be receptors for chemokines -small proteins that are known to direct the functions of the immune system. We have shown that neurons express many types of chemokine receptors and that activation of these receptors can produce both short and long term effects on neurons. Activation of chemokine receptors expressed by sensory neurons produces neuronal excitation and pain. Activation of chemokine receptors on hippocampal neurons has a prosurvival effect, whereas binding of HIV-1 to these receptors induces apoptosis. We are studying the molecular mechanisms that produce this diverse effects with a view to understanding the molecular basis for HIV-1 related dementias.
For lab information and more, see Dr. Miller’s faculty profile.
See Dr. Miller’s blog “The Keys to all Mythologies: Science, Medicine and Magic” to read articles concerning scientific topics of current interest as well as historical accounts of scientific issues.
See Dr. Miller's publications on PubMed.
Contact Dr. Miller at 312-503-3211.
Investigating the cellular and molecular pathways by which mutations in genes linked to Parkinson’s Disease contribute to disease pathogenesis
Parkinson’s disease (PD) has been classically considered a sporadic disease, however, it is now recognized to have a substantial genetic component. Interestingly, the same genes involved in the autosomal-dominantly inherited forms of PD such as SNCA and LRRK2 can act as risk factors in idiopathic cases of PD, as well. Therefore, studying the pathophysiological functions of these PD-related genes could provide valuable insights into the process of understanding the underlying pathogenic mechanisms of PD.
A large part of Dr. Parisiadou’s scientific efforts was focused on functionally characterizing the LRRK2 protein, and a number of relevant studies provided insights on the undetermined role of LRRK2 protein, as well as revealed an important functional interplay between SNCA and LRRK2. Based on the previous knowledge, Loukia Parisiadou’s research program is focused on the delineation of the contribution of LRRK2 and SNCA mutations in PD. To achieve this, a variety of mouse genetic, neuronal culture, histology, cell biology, biochemistry, and behavioral approaches will be utilized. Given the relevance of LRRK2 and α-synuclein with the sporadic forms of PD, our long-term research goal by interrogating α-synuclein and mainly LRRK2-dependent alterations at the cellular, network and behavioral levels is to appreciate the pathophysiology of PD. While there is still a long way to go in understanding the etiology of PD, LRRK2, and SNCA mutations have provided important insights into this process, and it is expected to have a crucial role to this effort for the following years to come.
See Dr. Parisiadou's publications on PubMed.
Contact Dr. Parisiadou at 312-503-2652.
Investigating intracellular calcium signaling
Research in the laboratory of Murali Prakriya, PhD, is focused on the molecular and cellular mechanisms of intracellular calcium (Ca2+) signaling. Ca2+ is one of the most ubiquitous intracellular signaling messengers, mediating many essential functions including gene expression, chemotaxis and neurotransmitter release. Cellular Ca2+ signals generally arise from the opening of Ca2+ permeable ion channels, a diverse family of membrane proteins. We are studying Ca2+ signals arising from the opening of a Ca2+ channel sub-type known as the store-operated Ca2+ channel (SOC). SOCs are found in the plasma membranes of virtually all mammalian cells and are activated through a decrease in the calcium concentration ([Ca2+]) in the endoplasmic reticulum (ER), a vast membranous network within the cell that serves as a reservoir for stored calcium. SOC activity is stimulated by a variety of signals such as hormones, neurotransmitters and growth factors whose binding to receptors generates IP3 to cause ER Ca2+ store depletion.
The best-studied SOC is a sub-type known as the Ca2+ release activated Ca2+ (CRAC) channel. CRAC channels are widely expressed in immune cells and generate Ca2+ signals important for gene expression, proliferation and the secretion of inflammatory mediators. Loss of CRAC channel function due to mutations in CRAC channel genes leads to a devastating immunodeficiency syndrome in humans. A major effort in our lab is to understand the molecular mechanisms of CRAC channel function.
Despite the fact that SOCs are found in practically all cells, their properties and functions outside the immune system remain largely unexplored. In order to fill this gap, we have begun investigation of SOC properties and their functions in two major organ systems: in the brain and the lung.
See Dr. Prakriya's publications on PubMed.
Contact Dr. Prakriya at 312-503-7030.
Investigating molecular mechanisms underlying glutamate receptors trafficking in normal and altered conditions
Neurons communicate with each other at synapses, extremely specialized and plastic structures able to adjust both quantitatively and qualitatively to correctly respond to a changing environment. The majority of neuronal communication is mediated by the activation of glutamate receptors (GluRs), which triggers mechanisms able to induce changes at synaptic level that are thought to underlie higher cognitive functions. Accordingly, GluRs are extremely well regulated in a cell- and synapse-specific manner. Several mechanisms including the control of expression/degradation level, intracellular trafficking or channel properties work coordinately to regulate GluRs. Not surprisingly, an aberrant GluR trafficking and/or function is a shared hallmark for many neurological disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease, Huntington’s disease, schizophrenia and autism.
The Sanz-Clemente Lab is interested in the molecular mechanisms underlying GluR trafficking in normal and altered conditions. We use a multidisciplinary approach including biochemistry, cell and molecular biology, pharmacology as well as a variety of imaging techniques and the analysis of genetically-altered mouse lines for elucidating how GluRs are controlled during development, in response to experience or other stimuli and what is their impact on synaptic function. Similarly, we investigate how the dysregulation of these mechanisms lead to synaptic alterations and, eventually, to neurological disorders. Current research focuses on NMDA Receptor (NMDAR) regulation and its role in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease.
The synaptic NMDAR subunit composition changes from predominantly GluN2B-containing to GluN2A-containing NMDARs during synaptic maturation and in response to activity and experience. This is an evolutionally conserved process that occurs in many brain areas and has important consequences in synaptic plasticity and intracellular signaling pathways.
See Dr. Sanz-Clemente's publications on PubMed.
Contact Dr. Sanz-Clemente at 312-503-4896.
Research in the Savas lab is aimed at accelerating our understanding of the proteins and proteomes responsible for neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative diseases.
We use biochemistry with discovery-based mass spectrometry to identify the protein perturbations which drive synaptopathies and proteinopathies. Groups of perturbed proteins serve as pathway beacons which we subsequently characterizes in hopes of finding new pathogenic mechanisms and potential future therapeutic targets.
Please see Dr. Savas' publications on PubMed.
Jeffrey N Savas, PhD
Assistant Professor in Neurology
Studying neuromuscular transmission and its modulation by adenosine derivatives under normal conditions and in disease
Dr. Silinsky, assisted by his collaborator and laboratory co-director Dr. Timothy Searl, Research Assistant Professor, studies neuromuscular transmission and its modulation at both voluntary (skeletal) and involuntary (autonomic) neuromuscular junctions.
Nerve endings communicate with their receiving cells by the secretion of primary neurotransmitter substances and also regulate their own activity by the co-release of neuromodulatory substances. Adenosine derivatives are such modulatory substances. Indeed, we now know that most synapses in the vertebrate nervous system are responsive to physiological levels of extracellular adenosine derivatives.
The Silinsky laboratory studies the effects of adenosine and adenosine triphosphate (ATP) on the functions of the peripheral nervous system. These molecules were originally implicated as important components of metabolic pathways and in the subtle control of the rate of chemical reactions. However, adenosine and ATP have been found by the Silinsky laboratory and other laboratories to be essential modulators of neuronal function and also to be neurotransmitters in disease states.
For example, we have found that adenosine, derived from the ATP released from nerve endings after repetitive activation, is an important mediator of the fatigue of our voluntary muscles. In addition, ATP may be the cause of overactive bladder, as ATP is released from overactive bladder and then acts on ATP-gated ion channels to cause the bladder muscle over-activity. These ATP-gated channels are absent from normal bladder muscles but their presence in disease states overwhelms the normal communication between nerve and bladder muscle and appears to be a major cause of the debilitating symptoms suffered by overactive bladder patients. We are also studying the effects of botulinum toxins, which are used to treat overactive bladder, as therapeutic tools and as tools to study modulation of neurotransmitter secretion at nerve endings.
Citations to the Important Findings:
1. Silinsky EM (1975) On the association between transmitter secretion and the release of adenine nucleotides from mammalian motor nerve terminals. J Physiol 247: 145 162.
2. Silinsky EM & Redman RS (1996) Synchronous release of ATP and neurotransmitter within milliseconds of a motor nerve impulse in the frog. J Physiol 492.3: 815-822.
3. Silinsky EM (1980) Evidence for specific adenosine receptors at cholinergic nerve endings. Brit J Pharmacol 71: 191-194,
4. Redman RS & Silinsky EM (1994) ATP released together with acetylcholine as the mediator of neuromuscular depression at frog motor nerve endings. J Physiol 477.1:117-127.
5. Silinsky EM (2008) Selective disruption of the mammalian secretory apparatus enhances or eliminates calcium current modulation in nerve endings. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 105: 6427-32.
6. Silinsky EM (2013) Low frequency neuromuscular depression is a consequence of a reduction in nerve terminal Ca2+ currents at mammalian motor nerve endings. Anesthesiology 119:326-334.
7. Searl TJ & Silinsky EM (2012) Evidence for constitutively-active adenosine receptors at mammalian motor nerve endings. Eur J Pharmacol 685: 38-41.
8. Searl TJ & Silinsky EM (2012) Modulation of purinergic neuromuscular transmission by phorbol dibutyrate is independent of protein kinase C in the murine urinary bladder. J Pharmacol Exp Ther 342:1-6.
See Dr. Silinsky's publications on PubMed.
Contact Dr. Silinsky at 312-503-8287.
Studying glutamate receptors in the modulation of neurotransmission and induction of synaptic plasticity
Geoffrey Swanson’s, PhD, laboratory studies the molecular and physiological properties of receptor proteins that underlie excitatory synaptic transmission in the mammalian brain. Current research focuses primarily on understanding the roles of kainate receptors, a family of glutamate receptors whose diverse physiological functions include modulation of neurotransmission and induction of synaptic plasticity. We are also interested in exploring how kainate receptors might contribute to pathological processes such as epilepsy and pain. The laboratory investigates kainate receptor function using a diverse group of techniques that include patch-clamp electrophysiology, selective pharmacological compounds, molecular and cellular techniques and gene-targeted mice.
See Dr. Swanson's publications on PubMed.
Contact Dr. Swanson at 312-503-1052.
Focusing on the role of protein phosphorylation pathways in disease onset and progression and their potential as drug discovery targets
The role of calmodulin (CaM) mediated signal transduction pathways in physiology and pathophysiology
Integrative chemical biology and development of novel therapeutics for attenuation of disease progression
We ultimately hope to find, by targeting pathophysiology mechanisms which contribute to disease progression, a series of novel small molecules with potential to be effective against a variety of disorders.
For lab information and more, see Dr. Watterson’s faculty profile
Contact Dr. Watterson at 312-503-0657.