Dr. Smrcka is a Professor in the department of Pharmacology. He received his Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the University of Arizona and did a Postdoctoral Fellowship with Paul Sternweis in Pharmacology at The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center where he studied G proteins, G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) and the mechanistic basis for phospholipase C activation.
Receptors for opioid analgesics produce their effects through activation of a class of receptors called G protein coupled receptors (GPCRs). Dr. Smrcka’s laboratory focuses on analysis of the interactions between GPCRs, G proteins and their cellular signaling pathways. One area of interest is improving the safety of opioid analgesics. We have developed a novel drug discovery approach that directly targets one of the signaling pathways directly downstream of opioid receptors that selectively enhances the analgesic effect of opioid analgesics while avoiding side effects. We are currently optimizing lead molecules for therapeutic development of compounds that enhance analgesia without affecting respiratory depression, tolerance or addiction. These compounds are also being tested in models of chronic pain.