Johns Hopkins Gazette: March 31, 1997

In Brief
Medical News

'Homer' may unravel mystery of drug addiction

A new protein Hopkins scientists call 'Homer, because it appears to "home in" on critical areas where messages are being passed between nerve cells, may provide a key to unraveling some of the mystery surrounding both drug addiction and how long-term memory is created.

"Homer is one of the first links between drug addiction and long-term memory," said Paul Worley, associate professor of neuroscience and neurology at the School of Medicine. "Homer acts directly on nerve cells' message-receiving structures. As such, it could be an important step toward understanding the connections between addiction and memory and toward developing new treatments for addiction," Worley said.

Researchers found that Homer becomes active in rat brain cells when rats are exposed to cocaine. They also found that Homer played a role when they applied laboratory models for investigating how long-term memory is created. In the memory model, researchers stimulated a nerve cell with an electric current and measured the resulting transmission of information between neurons. They found that if current is applied often and rapidly, the nerve cell activates genes and makes a number of complex changes that allow for faster communication. Worley's group found that nerve cells increased their Homer production levels nearly 50 times within minutes of their activation.

"We think with further research we may find that Homer allows these receptors to stay open longer, or to open up more easily," Worley said. "We believe Homer does something to enhance message reception and will provide fundamental insights into how the brain maintains long-term memories or becomes addicted to drugs like cocaine."

Their research, published in Nature, showed that Homer binds to a message receptor, called the metabotropic glutamate receptor, on the surface of excitatory nerve cells. Researchers hope that an understanding of Homer's links to other changes in nerve cells will lead to new drug treatments for addiction.

Match Day is THE DAY for SOM seniors

Nationwide, thousands of senior medical students had March 18 circled in red on their calendars. No, it's not the birthday of Dr. Spock (the pediatrician) or graduation day. Nor was it just another school day. It was Match Day, the day that senior medical students all over the country who ask medical school deans for "the envelope please" are matched with their July 1 residencies.

Earlier in the year, medical school seniors entered their location and specialty choices, and, in turn, hospitals and medical centers ranked their needs. On March 18, with the opening of an envelope, seniors see before them their path for the next several years if not the one they'll travel for most of their lives.

The National Resident Matching Program started in 1952. Created and billed as a fair way to provide an orderly mechanism for matching graduating student wants and needs with the wants and needs of hospitals ready to accept a batch of new residents, Match Day has become more than a process. It has become the ritual climax to the senior year of medical school.

According to H. Franklin Herlong, associate dean of the School of Medicine, last year 60 percent of Hopkins students chose to pursue residencies in emergency medicine, internal medicine, family practice and pediatrics. The rise in graduates pursuing generalist residencies has been on the rise since 1991.

This year, 120 School of Medicine seniors and more than 13,000 seniors nation-wide were matched with their residencies. "Normally, 20 to 30 percent of our students stay at Hopkins for their residency," said Herlong, who has seen a general trend toward more seniors choosing primary care as a specialty. "Match Day brings the gamut of emotions, great excitement, then relief. Most people get their top choices and are quite happy with their matches," Herlong said.

Nationally, 3,593 graduates will enter internal medicine residencies, 2,340 will enter family practice residencies and 1,650 will enter generalist pediatric residencies.

Other News

APL's Maryland MESA program is nation's best

The Applied Physics Laboratory's Maryland Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement program--known as MESA--has been recognized as the nation's best precollege community organization making contributions to the minority engineering effort for 1996.

The award was presented by the National Association of Minority Engineering Program Administrators at their annual national conference last month in Tysons Corner, Va. MESA director Robert Willis and state coordinator Norma Boyd received the award for APL.

The Maryland MESA program was cited for "making a significant contribution to the engineering pipeline by increasing the awareness, interest and academic preparation of precollege students in Maryland, especially minorities, for careers in mathematics, sciences and engineering."

Maryland MESA was founded by APL in 1976 with two schools in Baltimore. Today the program includes 85 schools throughout the state with an enrollment of more than 1,700 students.

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