Our last curator for Brain Awareness Week is Marina Picciotto (@MarinaP63). Marina is a Professor in Psychiatry, Deputy Chair for Basic Science and Professor of Neuroscience, Pharmacology at Yale University. Her lab studies the role of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors in the brain, including research related to addiction, depression, learning and appetite. Marina is currently also the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Neuroscience.
We asked Marina about her career path and why people should be interested in her field. You can read her responses below.
It’s a long story… an abbreviated version is that I enjoyed science classes in high school, but didn’t know that Science was a job. I had to get an internship my senior year, and fell into a lab assistant position in a neuroscience lab studying feeding behavior, where I realized that working in a lab could be a career. After that, my job choices kept leading me to science.
Understanding the brain and how it generates internal states and behavior is the most complicated scientific problem we can study, and in my narrow view, the most interesting. I work on what the receptors for nicotine, and their normal activator acetylcholine, do in the brain during normal function and when nicotine is on board or in models of psychiatric illness. This involves studies of biochemistry and molecules, cells, circuits and behaviors in rodents, as well as collaborative studies to test hypotheses in humans.
Nicotine addiction results in tobacco consumption which remains the leading, preventable cause of death. Despite knowledge that smoking is addictive and causes disease, many people continue to smoke, and if they try to quit, many still relapse. On top of that, the acetylcholine system has multiple functions in normal behavior and is fascinating just for itself.
I am the editor in chief of The Journal of Neuroscience, one of two journals published by the Society for Neuroscience. I am also president-elect of the Society for Research on Nicotine & Tobacco. In my spare time, I enjoy rock climbing, but I wish I were better at it. My perfect day off involves sleeping very late, exploring somewhere new, and having a book to read in a shady spot when my feet are tired.
Please welcome Marina to Real Scientists!