Marina Wolf, Ph.D., recognized for revolutionizing work in neuroscience and exemplary mentorship

Marina Wolf in OHSU lab

The Society of Neuroscience recognized Marina Wolf, Ph.D., for groundbreaking work in synaptic plasticity that has revolutionized neuroscience. Wolf, professor of behavioral neuroscience, is being honored with the Julius Axelrod Prize, which recognizes distinguished achievements in the broad field of neuropharmacology or related area and exemplary efforts in mentoring young scientists.

Wolf pioneered the idea that synaptic plasticity is a mechanism fundamental to the development of substance use disorder. Her groundbreaking work has been at the forefront of understanding the persistence of vulnerability to drug craving and relapse even after long periods of abstinence.                Pictured above: Marina Wolf, Ph.D., in her lab. She was recognized with the Julius Axelrod Prize at the November 2022 Society for Neuroscience annual meeting. (OHSU/Jordan Sleeth)

In the 1990’s, she championed a theory of addiction that focused on plasticity of glutamatergic synapses in the reward circuitry. At that time, addiction studies were largely centered on dopamine. The role of synaptic plasticity in addiction is now dogma, but Wolf faced tremendous resistance at the time, a challenge she overcame by publishing rigorous papers.

In a landmark paper, Wolf discovered that upregulation of calcium-permeable AMPA receptors in the nucleus accumbens sustains craving after prolonged abstinence from cocaine self-administration, raising awareness of the significance of these atypical AMPA receptors for behavioral plasticity in the addiction field and beyond.

This line of work holds promise for the potential development of anti-craving drugs and she has founded Eleutheria Pharmaceuticals with this hope.

Wolf also demonstrates a career-long commitment to graduate education and mentoring. She founded the neuroscience doctoral program at the Chicago Medical School and has worked towards advancement of women and under-represented minorities in the sciences through service on many committees and during her tenure as president of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology.

Wolf has trained seventeen graduate students and fifteen postdoctoral fellows, over half of them women. She is a fierce advocate for her trainees and provides career-long support while also fostering independence, self-confidence, and self-sufficiency.