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Three psychiatric researchers are newest Murphy Professors

Medicine@Yale, 2009 - Jan Feb


Three neuroscientists in the School of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry have been named to professorships funded by the late Charles B.G. Murphy, a 1928 alumnus of Yale College. Angus C. Nairn, Ph.D., and Marina R. Picciotto, Ph.D., have each been named Charles B.G. Murphy Professor of Psychiatry. Jane R. Taylor, Ph.D., has been designated the Charles B.G. Murphy Associate Professor of Psychiatry.

Nairn is noted for his research on the molecular actions of the neurotransmitter dopamine in a brain region known as the basal ganglia. Dysfunction of the brain’s dopamine systems have been implicated in movement disorders such as Huntington’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, as well as in schizophrenia, drug addiction and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). He has extensive expertise in enzymology, protein chemistry and the molecular biology of signal transduction, particularly with respect to the role of protein phosphorylation in the nervous system.

Picciotto’s research is focused on understanding addiction, depression and learning. She uses molecular, genetic and pharmacological approaches to link biochemical, cellular and anatomical levels of investigation to these complex behaviors. Picciotto’s primary interest is the role of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors in brain development and function, with a special emphasis on behaviors related to nicotine addiction and smoking. Picciotto also studies galanin, a neuropeptide that protects against the development of addiction.

Taylor, a member of Yale’s Interdisciplinary Research Consortium on Stress, Self-Control and Addiction, studies the brain’s cortico-limbic-striatal circuits. Disturbances in this network may cause increased impulsivity and alterations in reward-related learning that can lead to drug addiction, and disruptions in these circuits have also been linked to depression, schizophrenia and ADHD. In her current work, Taylor is studying how dopamine-regulated intracellular signaling molecules and alterations in associated molecules within the prefrontal cortex, amygdala and nucleus accumbens contribute to motivation, learning and memory.

Charles B.G. Murphy established the Wood Kalb Foundation in 1953. Through three separate philanthropies, Murphy and his estate have given over $10 million to Yale, exclusively in the Department of Psychiatry and the School of Medicine. Following Murphy’s passing, control of the foundation fell to his attorney and friend Ethan Allan Hitchcock of the Yale College Class of 1931, who had once been the roommate of Murphy’s brother. In 1978, Hitchcock gave $1 million to the medical school to establish the Murphy professorships in psychiatry. In 1979, Hitchcock gave $100,000 in support of Yale Cancer Center.

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