Four UCSF faculty scientists elected to National Academy of Sciences

By Wallace Ravven

Four faculty scientists at UCSF have been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, considered one of the highest honors for an American scientist. The new elections bring to 34 the number of UCSF faculty who are members of the Academy.

## The new UCSF members are:

* Shaun R. Coughlin, MD, PhD, professor of medicine and cellular and molecular pharmacology and director of the Cardiovascular Research Institute at UCSF;

* David Julius, PhD, professor and vice chair of cellular and molecular pharmacology;

* Erin K. O’Shea, PhD, professor and vice chair of biochemistry and biophysics and an assistant investigator in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at UCSF; and

* Peter Walter, PhD, professor and chair of biochemistry and biophysics and an investigator in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at UCSF.

All four have appointments in the UCSF School of Medicine.

The new members were elected to the Academy for their “distinguished and continuing achievements in original research.”

* Shaun Coughlin is widely recognized for his landmark discoveries of how thrombin, an enzyme that causes blood to clot, works on the cellular level.  He identified a new family of receptors that are broadly involved in a number of biological processes in the body and that have important implications for the development of novel treatments for thrombotic diseases including heart attack and stroke.  In addition to identifying the novel way that thrombin activates its receptor, his discoveries led to a greater understanding of how platelets and clot formation are regulated, how signals that control inflammation of blood vessels are transmitted, and the essential role of the PAR family of receptors in blood vessel development.

* David Julius probes the molecular basis of somatosensation—the process by which we experience touch and temperature. His lab studies how the nervous system detects pain-producing stimuli and how changes in these sensing mechanisms may contribute to chronic pain following tissue or nerve injury. In one project, Julius and his colleagues identified a component of the mammalian pain transmitting pathway by determining how capsaicin—the main pungent ingredient in some chili peppers—elicits the sensation of burning pain. They found that both capsaicin and noxious heat elicit the sensation of burning pain through activating the same receptor on sensory neurons.

* Erin O’Shea’s lab studies how cells monitor the environment and regulate their growth, work that has implications for understanding human cell growth in cancer and other diseases. Her research has contributed to an understanding of how the activity of regulatory proteins is controlled by phosphorylation, the nearly ubiquitous process by which small molecules called phosphates are attached to proteins in cells, allowing them to send signals and adapt to rapidly changing conditions.  Recently, she has made pioneering advances in proteomics, publishing with a colleague the most comprehensive and detailed picture yet of protein activity in the living cells of higher organisms. They developed a set of powerful tools that allow researchers to look in unprecedented detail at the full complement of thousand of proteins acting and interacting in a living organism.

* Peter Walter’s research aims to understand how proteins become properly localized within a cell—a process that is essential for maintaining order and compartmentalization in all living cells. His lab studies the pathways that allow certain classes of proteins to become selectively targeted to the cell’s endoplasmic reticulum, the organelle involved in protein synthesis and other vital functions. Walter also studies regulatory pathways within cells that control growth and turnover of organelles. He seeks to learn how cells of higher organisms regulate the abundance of their organelles.

The four UCSF scientists are among 72 new members and 18 foreign associates elected to the prestigious Academy. The National Academy of Sciences is a private organization of scientists, established in 1863 by a congressional act of incorporation, signed by Abraham Lincoln. It serves as an official adviser to the federal government, upon request, in any matter of science or technology.