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5 Questions: Rob Malenka on basic research, psychedelic drugs and psychiatric disorders

Robert Malenka headshot

Robert Malenka studies psychedelics for their potential in treatment of psychiatric disorders.

Fontejon Photography for the Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute

By Bruce Goldman

There’s been newfound attention to, and a new respect for, so-called psychedelic drugs — chemicals that alter our senses, emotions, thought processes and/or behavior. Robert Malenka, MD, PhD, the Nancy Friend Pritzker Professor in Psychiatry and the Behavioral Sciences, has conducted seminal work regarding how individual nerve cells, or neurons, react to different experiences; how those neurons interact in the brain’s all-important reward circuitry; and how those interactions influence social motivation, depression and addiction.

In recent years, Malenka has been probing psychedelic drugs’ therapeutic potential for a range of psychiatric disorders. Malenka — whom the Society for Neuroscience and the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies recently awarded the Peter Seeburg Integrated Neuroscience Prize — explained how one link in this chain led to another.