Research overview

Our research is focused on developing chemical tools for decoding biology and advancing medicine.

In the UC San Francisco laboratory of Pamela M. England, PhD, research focuses on the development and use of small molecules to manipulate and monitor the activities of biologically critical ligand-receptor systems. Execution of these research projects often involves a combination of synthetic chemistry, computational chemistry, structural biology, and appropriate biochemical, biophysical, and biological assays. Two critical systems being studied are glutamate-gated ion channels and hormone-activated nuclear receptors.

The neurotransmitter glutamate drives specific changes in the functioning of synaptic glutamate-gated ion channels. These changes modulate the strength of synaptic transmission, encode information, and allow for adaptive behaviors. We are developing and using small molecules to track the functional states of glutamate-gated ion channels at neuronal synapses.

Natural hormones and other small lipophilic molecules drive specific changes in the structure and activity of nuclear receptors. In response to hormone binding, nuclear receptors form protein complexes that control gene transcription events underlying development, homeostasis, and many diseases. We are designing small molecules to manipulate gene transcription by precisely controlling the activity of nuclear receptors.

Our work is based on the knowledge that small molecules represent a principal language the body uses to communicate within and between cells, tissues, and organs. Effectively tapping into this language offers a means of studying and controlling human health.

Why now

Research in the England Lab takes advantage of the rapidly evolving understanding of biological systems to develop chemical tools that control component parts of the system. These tools teach us which components are critical for function and point the way to improved medicines.

Why here

The work of the England Lab is supported by the rich academic and translational environment at UCSF. For example:

The England Lab aims to create chemical tools and new medicines to understand and improve health. UCSF is the leading university focused exclusively on human health. Under this umbrella, the School of Pharmacy concentrates on improving health through precise therapeutics, including developing new medicines.

Productive research in the England Lab melds chemical and biological sciences. The lab sits within the Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry, which encompasses the multiple disciplines of chemistry, biophysics, enzymology, molecular biology, and cell biology to explore research questions from many perspectives. The spirit of collaboration within this novel department typifies the entire research environment at UCSF, which is a leader in engaging scientists across fields to explore research questions aimed at improving human health.

Research in the England Lab is translational. UCSF is driven by the idea that when the best research and the best patient care converge, great breakthroughs are achieved. As a result, we are able to rapidly turn the latest research from the lab bench into treatment at the bedside. The federally funded Clinical and Translational Science Institute at UCSF reinforces this mission, providing infrastructure, services, and training to support clinical and translational research.

About the researcher

England obtained her PhD in organic chemistry from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). She received postdoctoral training in cellular and molecular neuroscience at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), Stanford University, and via the Grass Fellowship at Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory.