March 5, 2004

National award honors Limbird’s research

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Lee E. Limbird, Ph.D.

National award honors Limbird’s research

Lee E. Limbird, Ph.D., professor of Pharmacology, has received the 2004 Goodman and Gilman Award in Receptor Pharmacology, one of the highest honors in the discipline. The Goodman and Gilman Award, sponsored by the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics (ASPET) and GlaxoSmithKline, recognizes outstanding research in the pharmacology of biological receptors.

“It is an award of very high distinction in the Society, and Lee is so appropriate for it,” said Heidi E. Hamm, Ph.D., Earl W. Sutherland Jr. Professor and Chair of Pharmacology. “She has made fundamental contributions to the fields of receptors and pharmacology.

“Lee is one of the scientists who worked out the methodologies that we all use to study receptors, G-protein coupled receptors in particular.”

Limbird is being honored for her pioneering work and contributions to the understanding of alpha-2 adrenergic receptors, a family of proteins that shape the body’s responses to epinephrine and norepinephrine. Epinephrine, more commonly known as adrenaline, is the hormone that provokes the “fight or flight” stress reaction.

Limbird’s research over the last 25 years has shed light on how alpha-2 receptors signal inside the cell, how they arrive at certain cellular compartments, and which members of the alpha-2 receptor family are important for physiological functions as diverse as sedation, blood pressure control, pain perception and enhancement of working memory. She has utilized methodologies as diverse as protein biochemistry and in vivo mouse physiology to probe the functions of the alpha-2 receptor family.

“Lee’s work is a model for all of us working with receptors, transporters and ion channels in tackling the hard questions of why the genome goes to the effort to express multiple protein variants,” said Randy D. Blakely, Allan D. Bass Professor of Pharmacology and director of the Center for Molecular Neuroscience. “Her scholarly contributions will resonate with researchers and students for generations.”

“All in all, the award really recognizes the wonderful environment for doing research that is Vanderbilt,” Limbird said. “It is here that I even learned pharmacology, under the tutelage of Joel Hardman (chair of Pharmacology from 1975 to 1990), after I had already joined the faculty. And it is the outstanding and courageous graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, who shared my enthusiasm for research and who successfully addressed questions about the molecular basis of action of epinephrine and norepinephrine, who are responsible for the body of knowledge that is recognized by this award.

“I am pleased to have been recognized and grateful for the students and postdoctoral fellows with whom I have shared my career and who rightfully should share this award.”

Limbird has also played a major role in the teaching of pharmacology. She is the author of Cell Surface Receptors: A Short Course on Theory and Methods, and she has served as co-editor of the latest two editions of Goodman and Gilman’s The Pharmacological Basis of Therapeutics, the “bible” of pharmacology according to Hamm.

Limbird received her B.A. in Chemistry from the College of Wooster in Wooster, Ohio and her Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She began her studies of adrenergic receptors — focusing on beta adrenergic receptors — during her postdoctoral training with Robert Lefkowitz at Duke University and turned her attention to alpha-2 adrenergic receptors after joining the Vanderbilt faculty in 1979.

Limbird was chair of the department of Pharmacology from 1991 to 1998 and associate vice chancellor for Research at Vanderbilt from 1998 to 2003. She received the John Jacob Abel Award from ASPET in 1987, the Society’s most prestigious research award for young investigators.