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NIDA. (2003, October 1). NIDA Neuroscience Symposium Honors the Late Dr. Roger M. Brown. Retrieved from

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October 01, 2003
Robert Mathias
Dr. Roger M. BrownDr. Roger M. Brown

Sometimes, advice that offers just the right encouragement or urges a shift in direction can launch a whole career of scientific research. For more than two decades, Dr. Roger M. Brown provided insight and support to scientists exploring the ways that drugs act on the brain; the work he initiated and encouraged became the foundation of the neuroscience of addiction. Dr. Brown, associate director for neuroscience in NIDA's Division of Neuroscience and Behavioral Research, died last June.

On May 14 and 15, more than 300 researchers met in Natcher Auditorium on the National Institutes of Health campus in Bethesda, Maryland, to honor the life and legacy of Dr. Brown at a NIDA-sponsored symposium, "Foundations and Innovations in the Neuroscience of Addiction." Invited speakers represented research centers around the world and shared their latest findings or provided retrospective overviews on addiction research topics, including pain modulation, brain reward circuitry, cocaine binge-abstinence patterns, and amphetamine neurotoxicity.

NIDA Director Dr. Nora D. Volkow, in welcoming participants to the symposium, noted the broad impact of Dr. Brown's influence. "This meeting and all the science that we will hear about over the next 2 days are a product of Roger's insight," she said. "Some of the earliest work in neuroscience and much of the work that formed the foundation of our knowledge in the field are the results of Roger's effort."

Dr. Volkow also shared a personal recollection from early in her research career. "In 1988, I was submitting my first grant applications to conduct brain imaging studies. Not everyone recognized the technology's promise," she recalled. "Roger was my program officer. He understood how imaging studies could be applied to very basic science and said 'Nora, don't give up.' I didn't, and thanks to Roger's encouragement, we were able to establish the brain imaging program at Brookhaven National Laboratory."

In her keynote presentation, Dr. Patricia Goldman-Rakic of Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut, described Dr. Brown's contributions when he joined her intramural research team at the National Institute of Mental Health. "Roger was a wonderful colleague," she said, "inquisitive, energetic, and generous. And he made important contributions to the very first steps in understanding how dopamine and other neurotransmitters work in the brain--that they are part of chemical systems that act like electrical circuits to send and receive signals." Other researchers built on this base, said Dr. Roy Wise of NIDA's Intramural Research Program, to characterize the drug-reward circuitry--the brain areas, neural pathways, and cellular mechanisms that produce rewarding effects and motivate people to abuse drugs.

Throughout the symposium, speakers described how Dr. Brown had ignited similar sparks. Dr. Gerald Gebhart of the University of Iowa in Iowa City and Dr. Conan Kornetsky of the Boston University School of Medicine recalled how Dr. Brown had encouraged their research into the mechanisms that transmit pain signals throughout the central nervous system and the respective effects in the brain of pain-killing and addictive drugs.

Several presentations focused on the drug-induced brain changes over time that lead to the loss of control over drug-taking that characterizes drug addiction. Psychostimulant drugs such as methamphetamine and cocaine sensitize the brain, resulting in a greater effect with later administration that increases the likelihood of continued self-administration, noted Dr. Paul Vezina of the University of Chicago. Cocaine exposure also disrupts the brain's dopamine reward systems; over a period of years, this damage spreads to areas affecting cognition and movement, said Dr. Linda Porrino of Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. These and other studies of drug effects in animals point to neurobiological mechanisms that may produce both positive and negative emotional states in humans that drive them from initial drug use to drug addiction, suggested Dr. George F. Koob of the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California.

Dr. Frank Vocci, director of NIDA's Division of Treatment Research and Development, described the role of neuroscience in the development of medications to treat drug addiction. "Without the basic neuroscience foundation that Roger helped develop, today's treatments just wouldn't be possible," Dr. Vocci said. "And listening to the rest of the speakers at this meeting makes me even more impressed by Roger's incredible contributions. I'm glad to have known him and to be here to say what none of us ever said often enough: Thanks, Roger."