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Jefferson Chosen to Receive Yale Physician Scientist Development Award

June 13, 2024

Sarah Jefferson, MD, PhD, a fourth-year Neuroscience Research Training Program resident, is a 2024 recipient of a Yale Physician Scientist Development Award (YPSDA) in collaboration with the Yale Center for Clinical Investigation (YCCI) Scholars Program.

Over the award’s 24-month term, Jefferson will seek to develop her career as a clinical/translational scientist and will receive a salary to support protected time to conduct research, prepare data for publication, apply for grants, and begin to establish an independent research program. The award term begins July 1, 2024.

Jefferson's mentors for the award are Christopher Pittenger, MD, PhD, and Alfred Kaye, MD, PhD.

Her research will focus on understanding psychedelic drug action. Psychedelics can produce rapid and sustained antidepressant effects in humans and animal models, with effects lasting greater than one month after a single dose. Neural plasticity, or the growth of new synaptic connections between neurons, has been proposed as a key mechanism for the antidepressant effects of psychedelics.

Jefferson’s previous work has shown that even psychedelics with very short (less than 30 minutes) subjective effects can produce long-lasting changes in synaptic connections in animal models. However the receptor profiles and downstream pathways needed for the sustained neuroplastic effects of psychedelics have yet to be fully characterized, and it is unclear whether these pathways are distinct from those mediating the acute psychedelic effects of these drugs.

The goal of Jefferson’s work is to increase mechanistic understanding of psychedelic drug action, which could be used to design drug combinations that increase the tolerability of psychedelic drugs by blocking receptors responsible for unwanted effects or create novel therapies that target only the receptor profiles or downstream targets needed for therapeutic effects.

Submitted by Christopher Gardner on June 13, 2024