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National Institute on Drug Abuse -  NIDA NOTES
Bulletin Board
Volume 14, Number 2 (August, 1999)

NIDA-funded Scientist Receives Presidential Early Career Award

Dr. Mark Von Zastrow

Dr. Mark Von Zastrow

Dr. Mark Von Zastrow of the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) was recently awarded a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE). Dr. Von Zastrow was recognized for "outstanding contributions to understanding the intracellular trafficking of neurotransmitter receptors and the effects of drugs on the cellular processes of the brain."

Dr. Von Zastrow was 1 of 60 scientists who received PECASE Awards in a White House ceremony on February 10. The PECASE Awards were established by President Clinton in 1996 to promote U.S. leadership in scientific research and to recognize the work of promising young investigators.

According to Dr. Jonathan Pollock of NIDA's Division of Basic Research, Dr. Von Zastrow "is a gifted young scientist who has made extremely important contributions to the field of cell biology and drug abuse," through work that studies the essential molecular mechanisms related to drug tolerance and dependence.

Dr. Von Zastrow, an associate professor in UCSF's Department of Psychiatry and Pharmacology, received his M.D. and Ph.D. degrees from Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. After completing his residency in psychiatry at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, he became a Howard Hughes Fellow in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Physiology at Stanford, where he began the work he now continues at UCSF.

Dr. Von Zastrow joins 1996 PECASE recipient Dr. David Self of Yale University, and 1997 recipient Dr. Sharon Walsh of The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore as the first three NIDA grantees to earn this award, one in each year of its existence.

New Tracers Will Help Researchers Track Nicotine in the Brain

Dr. Edythe D. London and her colleagues at the Brain Imaging Center of NIDA's Intramural Research Program in Baltimore have developed a new class of radio-labeled chemicals capable of binding tightly to nicotinic acetylcholine receptors, the molecules in the brain where nicotine acts. These probes will enable scientists to monitor nicotinic pathways in the brain by external imaging. Because these radiotracers attach themselves with more selectivity and less toxicity than currently available nicotinic radiotracers, researchers believe they may be ideal for both positron emission tomography (PET) and single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT), two common brain imaging technologies.

Testing in primates has led scientists to conclude that this new class of radiotracers will be practical for studying the underlying mechanisms of nicotine dependence in humans and will be useful for developing and testing therapies for nicotine addiction. These radiotracers may also benefit the study of Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and Tourette's syndrome, which scientists believe are conditions characterized at least in part by abnormalities in nicotinic receptors. The Brain Imaging Center is now seeking FDA approval to use the new radiotracers in studies with human volunteers.

New York City's Declining HIV Epidemic

The prevalence of HIV infection among injecting drug users (IDUs) in New York City has declined markedly. In a NIDA-funded study conducted with 11,334 IDUs, from 1991 through 1996, more than half tested negative for HIV over time. The study- conducted by Dr. Don Des Jarlais of the Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City; his colleagues from the National Development and Research Institutes, Inc., in New York City; the New York City Department of Health; the New York University School of Medicine; and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta- looked at five ongoing studies over a 5-year period. At a citywide drug detoxification program, the portion of IDUs infected with HIV decreased from 53 percent to 36 percent. In a methadone maintenance program, the portion decreased from 45 percent to 29 percent. Two drug abuse research storefronts saw decreases in positive HIV test results, from 44 percent to 22 percent and from 48 percent to 21 percent. At a citywide network of sexually transmitted disease clinics, rates decreased from 30 percent to 21 percent.

The researchers theorize that the reduction of HIV among IDUs in New York City may be due to two major factors: the deaths of many HIV-infected IDUs and the reduction of risk behaviors, such as sharing drug paraphernalia. The researchers stress that the relative importance of these and other contributing factors must be studied further before any definitive conclusions about the reasons for the decline can be reached.

The Des Jarlais team speculates that further reduction in risk behaviors among IDUs should result in further reduction of new HIV infections.

NIDA NOTES - Volume 14, Number 2

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