James Howe, PhD

Professor Emeritus of Pharmacology

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James Howe, PhD
James Howe
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In Memoriam: James R. Howe, PhD 1954–2019

The faculty, staff, and students at the Department of Pharmacology are heartbroken at the sudden loss of a friend, colleague, teacher, and researcher. Professor Emeritus, Dr. James R. Howe had a massive heart attack days after returning from a ski vacation with his beloved wife, Dr. Claudia Schmauss. He was 64 years old. 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 Claudia in their new home near the Connecticut River.

Jim was born on 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 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, a PI 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.

Jim 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. He and his collaborators identified the first auxiliary subunit for kainate-type glutamate receptors and showed that it modulated unitary properties of kainate receptors. From these studies, he is recognized as a pioneer for revealing roles of auxiliary subunits on unitary properties of glutamate receptors. His contributions extended beyond glutamate-gated ion channels but also all other types of ion channels including inhibitory ligand-gated channels and voltage-gated ion channels.

He had a sarcastic and wry sense of humor, and a distinctive laugh, that he shared with friends and colleagues. What is not widely known about Jim is his work with under-privileged middle school boys at the St. Martin de Porres Academy in New Haven. He tutored and mentored middle school-aged children in math and was truly inspirational with a beautiful and generous spirit, contributing richly to the boys and making a difference in their lives. His sudden death at such a young age has saddened deeply all those who knew him. Our only consolation is he lived a rewarding and productive life.

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

Education & Training

  • PhD
    University of Minnesota (1983)
  • BA
    University of Minnesota (1980)
  • Postdoctoral fellow
    Pharmacology, University College London, London, UK
  • Research Associate
    Max Planck Institute for Psychiatry
  • Postdoctoral fellow
    Neuropharmacology, Max Planck Institute for Psychiatry, Munich, FRG

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