WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Society of Neuroscience (SfN) will honor Mary Kay Lobo, a professor in the department of anatomy and neurobiology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, with this year’s Jacob P. Waletzky award. The award recognizes a young scientist whose independent research has led to significant conceptual and empirical contributions to the understanding of drug addiction. The award is endowed by The Waletzky Family and The Waletzky Award Prize Fund. Recipients receive a $30,000 prize.
Mary Kay Lobo is a leader in the field of studying basal ganglia circuitry in drug addiction and stress. Her research focuses on the molecular mechanisms in vulnerable brain cell populations that drive cellular and circuit dysfunction leading to addiction. As a graduate student, she developed novel protocols to isolate two neuronal subpopulations (D1- and D2-expressing medium spiny neurons) and characterized genes specific to each subpopulation’s role in the striatum, a brain region implicated in drug addiction. She continued this work during her postdoctoral research, demonstrating for the first time that optogenetic manipulation of these two subpopulations, during cocaine exposure, produces opposite effects: stimulation of D1 cells promotes addictive-like behaviors, while stimulation of D2 cells blunts them. In her own lab, Lobo continues to unravel the mechanisms of addiction by incorporating new tools in addition to optogenetics, including transcriptomic approaches with single cell resolution and genetic engineering, using approaches like CRISPR to target molecules in disrupted brain cell subtypes. She also uncovered a role of mitochondria in mediating cellular plasticity in response to cocaine abstinence, revealing a mechanism by which D1 and D2 medium spiny neurons may use the same cellular machinery towards different ends and providing the first detailed demonstration of how drugs of abuse affect basic mitochondrial processes in neurons. Lobo’s work is state of the art, applying cutting-edge methodologies to address fundamental questions in the field of drug addiction and stress to provide answers with direct clinical relevance.
The Society for Neuroscience (SfN) is an organization of basic scientists and clinicians who study the brain and the nervous system.