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.