Neuroscientist named to IOM

Marina Picciotto, Ph.D., the Charles B. G. Murphy Professor of Psychiatry and professor of neurobiology and pharmacology, has been elected a member of the Institute of Medicine, the arm of the National Academies charged with providing science-based advice on medicine and health to policymakers, professionals, and the public at large.

Picciotto is an authority on the molecular underpinnings of tobacco and alcohol abuse, depression, and eating behaviors, with a particular interest in the role of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs). These receptors are widely expressed in the central and peripheral nervous systems, and as their name implies, they can be activated either by the neurotransmitter acetylcholine (ACh) or by nicotine. In addition to a fundamental involvement in tobacco addiction, nAChRs have been implicated in Alzheimer’s disease and in the dysfunctional sensory processing seen in schizophrenia. Picciotto has also done important studies on effects of nicotine exposure during gestation and adolescence on learning and memory, and on the neuropeptide galanin, which modulates ACh release and may exert a protective effect against addiction to drugs of abuse such as cocaine, amphetamines, and opiates.

Picciotto received her undergraduate degree in biological sciences from Stanford University in 1985, and a Ph.D. in molecular neurobiology at The Rockefeller University in New York City in 1992, where she worked in the Laboratory of Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience under Paul Greengard, Ph.D. She joined the Yale faculty in 1995, after completing a postdoctoral fellowship with Jean-Pierre Changeux, Ph.D., at the Institut Pasteur in Paris.

Also vice chair for basic science research in the Department of Psychiatry and associate director of the School of Medicine’s M.D./Ph.D. Program, Picciotto serves on the National Advisory Council of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. In 2000 she was awarded the Presidential Early Career Award in Science and Engineering by President Clinton, and in 2007 she was honored with the Jacob P. Waletzky Award by the Society for Neuroscience.

The IOM, established in 1970 by the National Academy of Sciences, is a national resource for independent, scientifically informed analyses and recommendations on issues related to human health. Those elected to the institute have made significant contributions to the advancement of medical science, health care and public health, and election is considered one of the highest honors in the health sciences.

This article was submitted by John Dent Curtis on October 15, 2012.