Nuclear hormone receptors are ligand activated transcription factors that regulate genetic networks controlling cell growth, development and metabolism. Binding of natural or synthetic agonists results in a conformational change (left side of figure) that alters the activity of receptors from transcriptional repressors to transcriptional activators. Treatment of mice with agonists for the liver X receptors results in a dramatic decrease in atherosclerosis (right side of figure) by promoting the removal of cholesterol from blood vessel walls. Courtesy of Dr. Ira G. Schulman.

Molecular Pharmacology at UVA focuses on mechanisms by which hormones, neurotransmitters, autacoids, synthetic chemical agents, and toxins modulate biological processes.

It draws on all traditional basic science fields to provide a synthetic understanding of how drug targets regulate normal physiological mechanisms and contribute to pathophysiology of disease.  Thus, pharmacologists work to identify drug targets with the ultimate goal of intervening — with rational and effective drug therapy — in signaling cascades and metabolic pathways that have gone awry.  Such intervention requires understanding of the major organismal control systems and identification of defects in these systems that occur with disease.

The Pharmacological Sciences Training Program at the University of Virginia encompasses the breadth of this discipline and provides students with a solid foundation for lifelong careers in pharmacology.  The diverse expertise of the pharmacology faculty provides training opportunities that encompass molecular and cellular biology in the context of whole animal physiology, drug discovery and translational medicine. Students are supported by the Pharmacological Sciences Training Grant, now in its 39th year.


  • Paula Q. Barrett
    Regulation of low-voltage activated T-type Ca2+ channel activity by kinases and heterotrimeric G-proteins and their roles in physiological responses.
  • Douglas A. Bayliss
    Mechanisms of neuromodulation in central neurons
  • Mark P. Beenhakker
    Circuit mechanisms of sleep and epilepsy
  • Stuart S. Berr
    Developing magnetic resonance (MR) techniques as a tool for basic biomedical research.
  • Michelle Bland
    Molecular mechanisms linking inflammation and insulin signaling to control cell growth and metabolism
  • David L. Brautigan
    Protein Phosphorylation in Cell Signaling
  • John H. Bushweller
    Structural and Functional Basis for Oncogenesis; Targeted Drug Development; Structural Studies of Membrane Proteins
  • Carl E. Creutz
    Calcium-dependent, membrane-binding proteins and mechanisms of exocytosis
  • Bimal N. Desai
    Electrical signals in inflammation and immunity
  • Daniel A. Engel
    Drug Discovery and Molecular Biology of Pathogenic RNA viruses: Influenza, Dengue and Ebola.
  • Salem Faham
    Structural biology of membrane proteins; Structure/function and structure/stability relationships and the development of new tools for protein crystallization.
  • Robin A. Felder
    Clinical Chemistry and Toxicology. Medical Automation Research. Neurotransmitters, cell surface receptors and intracellular second messengers.
  • Todd Fox
    Sphingolipids in ocular disease and cancer
  • Brent A. French
    Novel Therapies for Treating and Preventing Ischemic Heart Disease
  • Michael J. Guertin
    Transcription, Chromatin, Cancer, Molecular Biology, Genomics, and Computational Biology
  • Patrice G. Guyenet
    Neural control of blood pressure and respiration
  • Thurl E Harris
    Molecular mechanisms controlling insulin signaling and fat synthesis.
  • John C. Herr
    Spermatogenesis and oogenesis; fertilization; cancer-testis and cancer-oocyte neoantigens.
  • Joel W. Hockensmith
    Novel antiprotozoan and anticancer compounds from antibiotic-resistant bacteria
  • Ku-Lung Hsu
    Lipid Metabolism in Inflammation and Immunity
  • Brant Isakson
    Intercellular communication as it relates to blood pressure regulation
  • Laura Jansen
    Pediatric Epilepsy, Human Brain Development, Inhibitory Neurotransmission
  • Alexandra Kadl
    Lung injury and repair, sepsis
  • Mark Kester
    Nanotechnologies for targeted drug delivery
  • Gilbert Kinsey
    Acute Kidney Injury, Regulatory T Cells, Innate Immune Response
  • Gordon W. Laurie
    Role of Prosecretory Mitogen 'Lacritin' in Epithelial Homeostasis, Secretion and Innate Defense
  • John S. Lazo
    The mechanism of action of small molecules and the fundamental biological role of protein tyrosine phosphatases
  • Norbert Leitinger
    Role of lipid oxidation products in inflammation and vascular immunology in atherosclerosis and diabetes
  • Kevin R. Lynch
    Chemical biology of sphingosine 1-phosphate
  • Timothy L. Macdonald
    Elucidation of the Molecular Mechanisms of Drug Action and Toxicity
  • Craig S. Nunemaker
    Pancreatic islet/beta-cell physiology and diabetes
  • Manoj Patel
    Modulation of sodium channel gating by beta subunits and novel sodium channel blockers; Synaptic transmission in dorsal horn neurons
  • Edward Perez-Reyes
    Exploring epilepsy circuits then preventing seizures using AAV-based gene therapies.
  • Ira G. Schulman
    Regulation of transcription by nuclear hormone receptors, transcriptional control of metabolism, atherosclerosis, Small molecule approaches to drug discovery
  • Michael M. Scott
    Investigation of the neuronal circuits and epigenetic modifications involved in the control of food and drug reward
  • Nassima Ait-Daoud Tiouririne
    Addiction Medicine, Neuroscience, and Pharmacology
  • Slobodan M. Todorovic
    Pharmacology and function of T-type (low-voltage-activated, LVA) calcium channels in sensory transmission.
  • Jeremy B. Tuttle
    Neurodegenerative and Aging Dysfunction at the Cellular Level
  • B. Jill Venton
    Analytical Neurochemistry; Dopamine and Serotonin Neurotransmission in Drosophila; Mechanisms of rapid adenosine signaling in rodents
  • Zhen Yan
    Molecular and signaling mechanisms of skeletal muscle plasticity.
  • J. Julius Zhu
    Neural Circuits in Healthy and Diseased Brains