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Neuropharmacology/Drug Therapies for Brain Disorders

P. Jeffrey Conn
Department of Pharmacology
417-D Preston Research Building
615-936-2478 (office)
jeffrey.conn@vanderbilt.edu

The primary focus of research in our laboratory is to develop a detailed understanding of the cellular and molecular mechanisms involved in regulating chemical and electrical signaling in the central nervous system (CNS). Such changes in neuronal function are likely to play important roles in all normal physiological processes in the brain and are critical for development of a variety of brain diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia, epilepsy, drug dependence and other neurological and psychiatric disorders. We are especially interested in understanding how signaling is regulated in identified neuronal circuits that are important for these human neurological and psychiatric disorders. This is a highly multidisciplinary endeavor and we employ a broad range of techniques including electrophysiology, biochemistry, imaging, anatomy, and molecular biology techniques. Since our ultimate goal is to understand the impact of cellular and molecular changes to changes in intact neuronal networks and animal behavior that impact CNS disorders, we also employ a range of techniques in behavioral and systems neuroscience.

By developing this range of understanding, we hope to develop new strategies for treating neurological and psychiatric disorders. Our current research is especially focused on development of novel treatment strategies for schizophrenia and Parkinson’s disease. Also, we have increasing interests in drug addiction, Alzheimer’s disease, and severe anxiety disorders. In each of these areas, recent basic and clinical studies are shedding light on new approaches to develop novel treatment strategies.

Our basic science studies are revealing a number of key regulatory proteins that have exciting potential as novel drug targets for treatment of serious psychiatric and neurological disorders. In addition to pursuing the basic research needed to identify these novel drug targets, we are directly involved in taking these findings to the next step by pursuing early stage drug discovery efforts. This is an innovative and exciting endeavor that is rare in academic institutions. We have now purchased or gained access through collaborations with chemical companies to libraries of over 1 million novel small molecules with drug-like properties. In addition, working in the Vanderbilt Institute for Chemical Biology, we have established the infrastructure needed for high throughput screening these molecules for unique compounds that have potential for development into novel drugs. The combination of high throughput screening and synthetic chemistry provides an unprecedented opportunity for discovery and development of small molecules that may pave the way to eventual discovery of new drugs. By moving aggressively to move our basic science efforts into early stage drug discovery programs, we are making exciting advances that could lead to novel treatments for schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease, and other CNS disorders.

For more information, please visit the lab website.

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