Molecular Targets Research Team

Members of the USC School of Pharmacy’s molecular targets team have collaboratively developed an internationally renowned center for the study of aging and neurodegenerative diseases, with the ultimate goal of eradicating debilitating, age-related diseases. By understanding the molecular pathways of normal and diseased tissues, this team focuses largely on the underlying biological mechanisms essential to the development of increasingly targeted and effective treatments for some of the most pervasive and challenging diseases and disorders.

Key areas of emphasis include:

Oxidative Stress

Developing therapeutic interventions to prevent or reverse deleterious effects arising from an imbalance between toxic and beneficial byproducts of oxygen

Life requires mechanisms to cope with the toxic free radicals that are created as a byproduct of the body’s use of oxygen. Good health depends on the balance between the beneficial and toxic effects of oxygen. When the toxic aspects predominate, health deteriorates. A basic goal of the team’s research is finding therapeutic interventions able to forestall or reverse the damaging effects of toxic free radicals.

Diseases associated with free radical-initiated damage include: heart disease, diabetes, cancer and neurodegenerative diseases. The internationally recognized faculty on this team are investigating each of these aspects of free radical biology. In addition, the neuroscience and cell-signaling groups investigate aspects of free radical impact on gene expression, neurodegeneration and behavior.

USC Pharmacy experts:
Enrique Cadenas, MD, PhD


Understanding the basis of neurotransmission and how it can affect learning, memory and behavioral responses

Neuroscience remains one of the most intensively investigated and exciting areas of biological science. Understanding the function and biology of the brain, as well as the bases for learning, memory and cognition, have emerged as major goals of contemporary research. Such an understanding of the brain’s molecular mechanisms can lead to therapies that improve neuronal function.

Investigators in the neuroscience group apply highly sophisticated approaches to examine the basis of neurotransmission and how it can affect learning, memory and behavioral responses. The state-of-the-art approaches used include genetically manipulated knockout mice to dissect the roots of neural function, gene expression and behavior. A special unit devoted to the study of alcoholism combines analyses of gene expression, neuronal receptors and behavior to better comprehend the molecular basis of this crippling disease. Fighting the debilitating loss of cognition occurring in certain elderly individuals, typified by Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease, is another key emphasis of this research group. Combating the neurodegeneration caused by metabolic disorders and developing new approaches to behavioral and mental health issues—such as substance abuse, impulse control and aggression—are other efforts underway by the neuroscience research group.

USC Pharmacy experts:
Liana Asatryan, PhD
Daryl Davies, PhD
Roberta Diaz Brinton, PhD
Jean Chen Shih, PhD

Cell Signaling and Function

Studying the many stages of gene regulation, from transcription to translation to the signals that govern gene expression changes

Genes and their products affect every aspect of biology. Changing patterns of gene expression mediate the development of humans from birth onward, including the occurrence and progression of disease, and also can predict the response to therapeutic agents.

The cell signaling and function group’s research includes studying the many stages of gene regulation, from transcription to translation, to the signals that govern gene expression changes. A major focus of contemporary pharmacology is the dissection of molecular pathways that determine cell state—often referred to as signal transduction pathways. Program research focuses on the pathways that control differentiation and transformation to a cancerous state.

USC Pharmacy experts:
Sarah Hamm-Alvarez, PhD
Roger Duncan, PhD
Curtis Okamoto, PhD
Bangyan Stiles, PhD
Annie Wong-Beringer, PharmD, FCCP, FIDSA
Jean Chen Shih, PhD