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James R. Howe, PhD, Professor Emeritus of Pharmacology, Dies at 64

March 15, 2019

James R. Howe, PhD, professor emeritus of pharmacology, died on Friday, March 8, at age 64. He had suffered a massive heart attack two weeks earlier.

Howe was born March 21, 1954, in Minnesota, played high school basketball and golf, and attended the University of Minnesota where he earned his BS and PhD. He was a postdoctoral fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Psychiatry in Munich and the University College London before arriving at Yale School of Medicine as an associate research scientist in Dr. Murdoch Ritchie’s laboratory. He was hired as an assistant professor in 1991 and began an independent research program to study ion-channels. He was considered an excellent lecturer to both medical students and graduate students on the pharmacology of the autonomic nervous system as well as receptor affinity efficacy and receptor kinetics.

During the course of his academic career, he was director of medical studies and principal investigator of a neuropharmacology training grant, and was awarded multiple NIH grants to support his research. He mentored graduate students and postdoctoral associates who left his laboratory to start their own careers at other institutions and continued to contribute to the lives and careers of his colleagues. He inspired others at Yale and from around the world to collaborate with him.

Howe is widely known for his work on the kinetic behavior and unitary properties of glutamate receptors, the primary excitatory receptor in the brain. Jim used electrophysiological and X-ray crystallography techniques to elucidate the major conformational changes that translated neurotransmitter binding into ion channel opening, closure, and receptor desensitization. His experimental and simulation studies were designed to determine the role of receptor kinetics in shaping synaptic transmission in the brain. His more recent interests include how TARP auxiliary subunits modulate both ensemble and single-channel currents through AMPA-type glutamate receptors via protein-protein interactions. Indeed, he discovered TARP modulation of AMPA receptor gating.

What many do not know about Howe is his work with underprivileged middle school boys at the St. Martin de Porres Academy in New Haven. He tutored and mentored middle school-aged children in math and inspired many with a beautiful and generous spirit, contributing richly to the boys and making a difference in their lives.

After his recent retirement, he continued to return to Yale to finish manuscripts with his colleagues and enjoyed playing golf at the Black Hall Country Club. He also enjoyed gardening and the outdoors with his wife, Dr. Claudia Schmauss, in their new home near the Connecticut River.

He is survived by his wife, his father Herb Howe, sister Susan Dunn and his nieces and nephews, and is pre-deceased by his mother Lois Howe.

Submitted by Robert Forman on March 15, 2019