Amy F.T. Arnsten, recently named as the Albert E. Kent Professor of Neuroscience and of Psychology, studies molecular influences on higher cognitive function, with the aim of developing rational therapies for mental illness and for age-related cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Arnsten’s work focuses on the prefrontal cortex, a highly evolved brain region that creates our “Mental Sketchpad,” allowing abstract reasoning, high-order decision-making, working memory, and thoughtful regulation of attention, behavior, and emotion (including inhibition of inappropriate thoughts, actions, and feelings). The Arnsten Lab has discovered powerful chemical signaling pathways that can impair prefrontal function — for example, when people are stressed — as well as protective pathways that maintain strong cognitive function. These pathways are altered by normal aging, and can be genetically altered in mental illness. Based on research in Arnsten’s lab, two medications have been developed for human use: guanfacine (Intuniv) for the treatment of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and related prefrontal cortical disorders, and prazosin for the treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
A graduate of Brown University, Arnsten earned her Ph.D. from the University of California-San Diego. She began her career at Yale as an associate research scientist at the School of Medicine. Prior to her new appointment, she served as a professor of neuroscience. She holds secondary appointments in the Department of Psychiatry, the Department of Psychology, and the Yale Child Study Center.
Arnsten is the author or co-author of more than 180 peer-reviewed articles in scientific and medical journals. Her research has been supported by grants from federal agencies and private foundations, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Institute on Aging, and the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation.
The Yale professor’s honors include the NARSAD Distinguished Investigator Award, the Goldman-Rakic Prize for Outstanding Achievement in Cognitive Neuroscience, and the NIH Director’s Pioneer Award. In 2017, she was elected as a member of the National Academy of Medicine