Vol 9. Issue 11 / March 30, 2009
Laura Bohn Joins Department of Molecular Therapeutics
By Eric Sauter
The Scripps Research Institute has appointed Laura Bohn as associate professor in the Department of Molecular Therapeutics. Bohn, a nationally known researcher investigating the mysteries of G protein-coupled receptors, particularly their role in pain and addiction, officially joined the Scripps Florida Jupiter campus on March 2, 2009.
Bohn was an associate professor in pharmacology and psychiatry at The Ohio State University prior to joining Scripps Research.
Bohn, who is 37, as already settled into Jupiter with her family.
"Laura is a natural fit for Scripps Florida and we are excited that she has joined our faculty," said Pat Griffin, chairman of the department. "She brings a strong focus on mechanism of G protein-coupled receptor signaling and a desire to discovery and develop molecules to selectively modulate them."
Bohn's work focuses on the regulation of G protein-coupled receptors (GPCR), a large family of transmembrane receptors that transmit signals into a cell's interior. She is interested in how this regulation affects overall drug responsiveness in living systems, particularly during opioid receptor signaling, which plays a prominent role in pain perception. Determining how receptors such as the mu opioid receptor—the primary target of morphine—are regulated could provide insights into controlling pain, opiate tolerance, dependence, and addiction.
"I'm excited about joining the institute's faculty," Bohn said. "It offers exceptional resources for scientists, close collaboration between biologists and chemists, and the opportunity to take basic findings and develop them into compounds with significant clinical potential."
Bohn received bachelor's degrees in both biochemistry and chemistry from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in 1993 and a Ph.D. from Saint Louis University in biochemistry and molecular biology. In 1996, she received a Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Services Award Predoctoral Fellowship from the National Institutes of Health; she also received a Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Services Award Postdoctoral Fellowship in 2000.
"You can do drug discovery in a number of different settings," Bohn said, "but Scripps Florida combines basic research and drug development in a single setting. That makes discoveries ultimately more amenable to the clinical trial process and that much more attractive to potential collaborators. It's a remarkable place."
Bohn's deep interest in opioid receptors first took root during her postdoctoral studies at Duke University. Working with genetically engineered mice that lacked a protein switch called beta arrestin 2, she found that mice were more sensitive to the pain-relieving properties of morphine and thereby demonstrated that beta arrestin 2 is a regulator of mu opioid receptor function. Since then, she has pursued the molecular regulation of these receptors, hoping to improve drug responsiveness in vivo—getting better pain control, for example, from significantly lower drug doses.
"We want to understand how receptors respond to drugs in a tissue-specific manner, so we can separate the side effects from the drug's beneficial properties," she said. "Morphine is still clinically useful today, so we have the opportunity to study how it works in living systems with receptor regulation specifically disrupted. Hopefully, this will lead improving pain treatment options in patients. Ultimately we want to get rid of the pain while decreasing the deleterious side effects produced by prescription narcoitcs which range in severity from constipation to respiratory failure."
In addition, Bohn is interested in antipsychotic therapies, which also have significant side effects that limit their benefit and which also involve beta arrestin.
"This is really a remarkable switch," she said of beta arrestin 2. "It represents a point where you can change from one signalling pathway to another—a fork in the road where we have the opportunity to make the effect of the drug more or less desirable."
Send comments to: mikaono[at]scripps.edu