Neuroscience and Pharmacology

The following programs/research are currently under way in the Department of Neuroscience and Pharmacology in the School of Medicine at Meharry Medical College.

Educational and research interventions for the nuclear regulatory commission
Researcher: Clivel Charlton, Ph.D.
Funding Source: Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Project Summary: The ultimate goal of activities conducted under this activity seek to establish scientific research programs with Y12 National Security Complex scientists to better understand the consequences of nuclear fallout disposition to the developing central nervous system and subsequent effects on cognitive processes in vulnerable military populations. Activities under this award will also serve to provide a customized pipeline for minority biomedical scientist and occupational and environmental medicine positions at Y12, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and other national security complexes.


Control of nociception in the spinal cord
(Neurobiology of Pain and Analgesia: Sex-Related Differences)
: Sukhbir S. Mokha, Ph.D.
Funding Source
: National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS)
Project Summary: Many pain syndromes / disorders such as migraine, trigeminal neuralgia, and irritable bowel syndromes have a higher prevalence in women as compared to men. The goal of our research is to understand the underlying biological mechanisms that make women more vulnerable to the development of pain syndromes and enhance our understanding of the sex-related differences in the regulation of pain throughout the life span. Our research is specifically focused on the genomic and non-genomic effects of sex steroid hormones on the regulation of pain by G protein coupled receptors such as the opioid receptors. Our research will lead to the development of new and better therapeutic strategies for the treatment of pain.


Sleep Disturbance and Adverse Pregnancy Outcomes
: Sanika Chirwa, Ph.D.
Funding Source: Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (pending)
Project Summary: The goal of the study is to understand the causal links between poor sleep profiles (i.e. chronic sleep debt, disturbances, and quality) in pregnant women and occurrence of adverse outcomes – e.g. preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, hemorrhage, intra-uterine growth restriction, preterm delivery and macrosomia. We are testing two inter-related hypotheses namely: 1) Sleep disturbance is a potent stressor that independently triggers the release of cortisol. Unbalanced cortisol release, in turn, fosters metabolic abnormalities leading to adverse pregnancy outcomes; and 2) Sleep disturbance will independently attenuate insulin sensitivity, and, thereby, cause impaired glucose tolerance resulting in metabolic abnormalities. The concept that severe sleep disturbance is a potent stressor with the capacity to unbalance the intricate catabolic states that occur in the second half of pregnancy and result in adverse outcomes is innovative. If verified, this will help guide the development of evidence-based screening test(s) for early detection and curtailment of adverse pregnancy outcomes.


In Utero Exposure to Methamphetamine: Risks and Adverse Outcomes in Progeny
Sanika Chirwa, Ph.D.
Funding Source: National Institute of Drug Abuse (pending)
Project Summary: The goal of this project is to understand in detail the risks and attendant cognitive-behavioral dysfunctions in off-springs exposed to methamphetamine in utero. The project entails using behavior tests for episodic memory (i.e. novel object recognition) coupled with in vivo electrophysiological recordings for studying synaptic plasticity and neural network interactions in the hippocampus, a brain structure that is critical for episodic memory acquisition and consolidation. Data from this project will help clarify how and by what mechanisms exposure to methamphetamine in utero subsequently affects mnemonic functions in off-springs.


Sex-based and individual-based differences in the comorbidity of drug addiction and mood disorders.
Akiko Shimamoto, Ph.D.
Funding Source: Research Centers in Minority Institutions (RCMI)
Project Summary: This project investigates molecular, neuronal, and behavioral mechanisms underlying chronic stress-induced addictive behaviors in both males and females. The main focus of this project is brain reward pathway, including dopamine, glutamate, and GABA neurons. The proposed research will help us understand how drug addiction is influenced by mood disorders such as depression, and will lead to a more effective treatment for these individuals.