Molecular Pharmacology & Physiology Graduate Program (MPP)

          Pharmacology and physiology deal with the physical and chemical nature of living organisms and the mechanisms of drug actions on these organisms. These disciplines are interactive and very quantitative, applying math, physics, chemistry, and computer science to the study of biological systems. They cover numerous fields, including neuroscience, cardiovascular and other organ systems, endocrinology, biophysics, protein structure and drug design, signal transduction, neurodegenerative diseases, cancer, drug and gene therapy and drug abuse.  Research in pharmacology and physiology often is "translational", linking basic science with medicine and the treatment of disease. 

          Research in these fields also involves an impressive variety of techniques, including NMR-based structural biology, X-ray crystallography, genetic engineering, mass spectrometry and other techniques in molecular biology and biochemistry, electrophysiology (e.g., patch clamp) of isolated cells and brain slices, calcium imaging and other cell biological techniques, behavioral studies, and confocal and electron microscopy.

          The Graduate Program in Pharmacology & Physiology (MPP) at Brown University is a small, intimate program in which there are typically 20 total students, with 3 or 4 students admitted annually.  As a result, the program is flexible and congenial, and students have extensive direct interactions with the faculty trainers, as well as with the Program Director, Associate Director and Program Coordinator. The program is funded in part by an NIH training grant (T32) through the NIGMS Program in Pharmacological Sciences.  In addition, the MPP program is very diverse, in terms of its research areas and curriculum, as well as in the racial, ethnic and cultural background of its students and faculty trainers.

          MPP is a very interdisciplinary and collaborative program, drawing trainers from many departments, as well as from several hospitals.  There are 33 faculty trainers, whose research falls into the following 5 general focus areas:

  1. Molecular structure and its role in disease
  2. Neuropharmacology and neural circuit function
  3. Receptor and channel pharmacology, physiology and signal transduction
  4. Translational and clinical applications of pharmacology & physiology
  5. Chemical biology and its applications

Areas of Research:

Research in MPP involves collaborative efforts within and between departments at Brown, with universities and research institutes throughout the world, as well as with hospitals, pharmaceutical companies and the National Institutes of Health.

Some examples of current MPP research topics include:

  • Mechanisms of synaptic plasticity, learning and memory
  • Stem cell differentiation and regulation
  • UV light signal transduction in human skin
  • NMR and X-ray structures of interacting proteins
  • Mechanisms of circadian biorhythms
  • Bacteria in biofuel development and antibiotic resistance
  • Genetic basis of autism and other cognitive disorders
  • Development of drug and gene delivery methods
  • Mechanisms of sudden cardiac death
  • Development of artificial organ systems
  • Function and regulation of neurotransmitter receptors
  • Structure, function and biophysics of ion channels
  • Mechanisms of cell death and cancer development
  • Receptors of psychoactive drugs
  • Mechanisms of sensory transduction
  • Nerve degeneration in alcoholism, fetal alcohol syndrome and Alzheimer's disease
  • Biological consequences of DNA damage
  • Mechanisms of drug addiction
  • Brain wiring during embryonic development
  • Nanoscale mechanical properties of cells

 The program has many attractive features:

  • Small labs, allowing extensive, close, one-on-one faculty-student interactions that are not as feasible in larger laboratories, programs and institutions
  • Interdisciplinary research with many state-of-the-art methods and supportive collaborations within and across departments, and between hospitals and the main campus
  • Campus- and hospital-based labs
  • Minimal course requirements, with numerous outstanding elective courses, and personalized advising, allowing curricular flexibility and customization.

               Also available are many core equipment facilities, including: an electron microscopy facility, a mouse transgenic facility and knockout core, an animal care facility, a structural biology facility, and a proteomics facility.

          Admission is ordinarily limited to applicants for the Ph.D.  Admission for internal 5th year masters degrees is permitted, but only for Brown undergraduate students, and with preference given to those students already working in a research lab at Brown.

          The program also admits Brown M.D./Ph.D. students, and they typically receive course credit for their medical courses.

          Additional information is available in the FAQs and in the MPP Graduate Program Handbook, both accessible via this web site.