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Michael Ehlers

M.D., Ph.D.
Senior Vice President, Chief Scientific Officer of the Neuroscience & Pain Research Unit

Michael Ehlers is Senior Vice President, Chief Scientific Officer of the Neuroscience Research Unit.  Prior to joining Pfizer, Dr. Ehlers was the George Barth Geller Professor of Neurobiology and an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at Duke University Medical Center. Dr. Ehlers grew up rural Nebraska and earned his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Caltech. He holds M.D. and Ph.D. degrees from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, where he pioneered studies on the regulation and trafficking of glutamate receptors. The Ehlers Lab current research focuses on the interface between neuronal cell biology and the plasticity of neural circuits in neuropsychiatric disease.  Our overarching goal is to link drug action to novel signaling and circuit events in the mammalian brain.  We have three major lines of ongoing research.  First, we are defining mechanisms that regulate the function of glutamatergic synapses during learning-related plasticity.  Second, we are defining novel forms of receptor signaling and trafficking using a combination of chemical biology, molecular pharmacology, and live cell imaging.  Third, we are using a combination of multi-unit electrophysiological recordings and microendoscopic imaging to monitor and manipulate selected neural circuits in vivo in response to acute and chronic drug exposure.

Dr. Ehlers is the recipient of numerous awards including the 2003 Eppendorf & Science Prize in Neurobiology, the 2007 John J. Abel Award in Pharmacology, the 2007 Society for Neuroscience Young Investigator Award, and the 2009 National Alliance for Schizophrenia and Depression Distinguished Investigator Award. He received the 2008 Breakthrough Research Award of the North Carolina Biotechnology Center given to a single scientist in North Carolina. In 2013 he became the 11th recipient of the Thudichum Medal of the Biochemical Society of the United Kingdom, an award inaugurated in 1974 to honour eminent scientists who have made outstanding contributions to neurochemistry and related subjects, whose recipients include two Nobel laureates.   Dr. Ehlers has authored over 90 scientific papers, has served on the Editorial Boards of Annual Reviews in Medicine, Annual Reviews in Pharmacology and Toxicology, the Journal of Neuroscience, the Journal of Biological Chemistry, and Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience, and sat on advisory committees of the National Institutes of Health.  He is a member of the PhRMA Foundation Basic Pharmacology Advisory committee, the Janelia Farm Research Institute Advisory Committee, the McKnight Endowment Fund for Neuroscience Board, the Institute of Medicine’s Board on Health Science Policy, and the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Brain Research.  He serves on the scientific advisory boards of several private foundations, and has advised major pharmaceutical, venture, and biotech companies.

Select Publications

A.M. Mabb, H. Shawn Je, M. J. Wall, C. G. Robinson, R. S. Larsen, Y. Qiang, S. A. L. Correa, and M. D. Ehlers (2014).  Triad3A regulates synaptic strength by ubiquitination of Arc.  Neuron 82:1299-31.

R.T. Peixoto, P.A. Kunz, H. Kwon, A.M. Mabb, B.L. Sabatini, B.D. Philpot, and M.D. Ehlers (2013).  Trans-synaptic signaling by activity-dependent cleavage of neuroligin-1. Neuron 76 :396-409.

T. Cui-Wang, C. Hanus, T. Cui, T. Helton, J. Bourne, D. Watson, K. M. Harris, and M. D. Ehlers (2012).  Local zones of endoplasmic reticulum complexity confine cargo in neuronal dendrites.  Cell 148 :309-21.

I.G. Davison and M. D. Ehlers (2011).  Neural circuit mechanisms for pattern detection and feature combination in olfactory cortex.  Neuron 70:82-94.

M. J. Kennedy, I. G. Davison, C. G. Robinson, and M. D. Ehlers (2010).  Syntaxin-4 defines a domain for activity-dependent exocytosis in dendritic spines.  Cell  141:524-35.

J. J. Yi, A. P. Barnes, R. Hand, F. Polleux, and M. D. Ehlers (2010).  TGF-b signaling specifies axons during brain development.  Cell 142 :144-57.

M.-C. Lee, R. Yasuda, and M. D. Ehlers (2010).  Metaplasticity at single glutamatergic synapses.  Neuron 66 :859-70.