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Leading Neurobiologist Appointed NIMH Scientific Director

Press Release

Susan G. Amara, Ph.D., Scientific Director
Susan G. Amara, Ph.D.

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently appointed Susan G. Amara, Ph.D., an award-wining and internationally recognized neurobiologist, as the scientific director for the Division of Intramural Research Programs (IRP).

Prior to joining NIMH, Dr. Amara most recently served as the Thomas Detre Professor and Chair of the Department of Neurobiology at University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and co-director of the Center for Neuroscience at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania. Dr. Amara has previously served as senior scientist and Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigator at the Vollum Institute and professor of cell and developmental biology and of biochemistry and molecular biology at the Oregon Health & Science University in Portland; and HHMI investigator at Yale University.

“Dr. Amara built a dynamic program in neurobiology at Pitt, despite a challenging funding climate—nurturing generations of talented young investigators,” said NIMH Director Thomas R. Insel, M.D. “We are looking forward to her stewardship of the intramural research program.”

Dr. Amara’s own research has primarily focused on the molecular and cellular biology of neurotransmitter transporters — proteins on neurons that regulate and recycle brain chemical messengers, such as dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, and glutamate. Such transporter proteins are targets for addictive drugs and for medications that treat mental disorders such as depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. They play key roles in neuronal communication, memory, and learning.

Dr. Amara received her bachelor’s degree from Stanford University and her doctorate degree in physiology and pharmacology from the University of California San Diego, where she worked on RNA editing. With support from the HHMI, she later shifted her focus to studies on the molecular structure of neurotransmitter transporters.

Dr. Amara has served on the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Board of Scientific Counselors, a panel of advisors to the intramural scientific director. She is a member of the National Academy of Science (2004), a fellow of AAAS (2007), and recipient of the Julius Axelrod Award from the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics (2006). She also served as President of the Society for Neuroscience (2011).

As scientific director, Dr. Amara will provide scientific, program, and administrative leadership for IRP; promote an environment conducive to productive research and training and development of clinical and basic scientists; and coordinate activities, establish priorities, and analyze and evaluate progress.

IRP is the internal research division of NIMH. Scientists in this division conduct research ranging from studies into mechanisms of normal brain function, at the behavioral, systems, cellular, and molecular levels, to clinical investigations into the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental illness. The diseases that are studied include mood disorders and anxiety, schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorders.

“My vision for the intramural research program is that it has the opportunity to do so many different kinds of things at different levels — to do really innovative things that you can’t do elsewhere,” said Dr. Amara in a lecture at NIH early last year. The ability to be “nimble” and occasionally take risks is a unique resource of IRP, she added.


About the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH): The mission of the NIMH  is to transform the understanding and treatment of mental illnesses through basic and clinical research, paving the way for prevention, recovery and cure. For more information, visit the NIMH website.

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit the NIH website .

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