Congratulations to faculty members Meaghan Creed, PhD, Wayland Cheng, MD, PhD, and Jordan McCall, PhD, all of whom recently received their first R01 or R35 research grants from the National Institutes of Health.
“Drs. Creed, Cheng, and McCall are very talented junior investigators who have recently established their laboratories,” said Robert Gereau, PhD, Vice Chair for Research for the Department of Anesthesiology. “Receiving the first “R”-level award from the NIH is a major milestone in any scientist’s career – we congratulate our colleagues for this accomplishment and look forward to the great science to come.”
The focus of Dr. Creed’s R01 grant research is on basal ganglia, a network of interconnected brain areas, whose coordinated activity is critical for decision-making, motivation, and reward learning. Plasticity within this network is thought to underlie maladaptive reward processing that is characteristic of chronic pain, mood, and substance-use disorders. Dr. Creed seeks to understand how activity between two points in this network, the nucleus accumbens and the ventral pallidum, encodes value of rewards, and how opioids induce plasticity between these two structures. Understanding how opioids induce plasticity and leveraging this insight to normalize circuit function may provide blueprints for novel treatments for reward-related symptoms of chronic pain, mood, and substance use disorders.
Dr. Creed is an Assistant Professor at the Washington University Pain Center whose research aims to understand pain- and opiate-induced plasticity within defined neural circuits, and to leverage this insight to develop novel circuit-based therapies for disorders of reward processing.
Dr. Cheng’s research, supported by his recent R35 grant, investigates the structural mechanisms by which lipids and anesthetics modulate the function of pentameric ligand-gated ion channels such as the acetylcholine receptor and GABA(A) receptor.
This project builds upon recent work in the Cheng Lab showing that endogenous phospholipids bind to these ion channels at specific sites and are critical for maintaining channel response to neurotransmitters. The lab uses single particle cryoelectron microscopy and native mass spectrometry to investigate channel structure and function.
The results of this research will enhance fundamental understanding of how pentameric ligand-gated ion channels open and close in response to neurotransmitters and will provide structural information to facilitate the discovery of new drugs that target these channels.
Dr. Cheng is an Assistant Professor in the Division of Basic Science Research and his research focuses on the structure and function of neuronal ligand-gated ion channels such as the GABA(A) receptor and TRP channels.
The goal for Dr. McCall’s R01 grant is to better understand how chronic stress modifies the ability of central norepinephrine system, an important source of endogenous analgesia, to increase or decrease control of pain. Psychological stress can either suppress or enhance pain, but it is not well understood how this switch occurs. Most evidence suggests that the type and duration of stress differentially modulates the pain experience with acute stress typically thought to be analgesic, while chronic stress is thought to exacerbate pain. In particular, McCall will use mouse models to identify stress-induced adaptations in neural circuits that supply the dorsal spinal cord with norepinephrine.
Dr. McCall is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Anesthesiology, the Department of Pharmaceutical and Administrative Sciences at the St. Louis College of Pharmacy, and the Center for Clinical Pharmacology.