June 14, 2017

Ronald Lukas, Ph.D.

Ronald Lukas, Ph.D.

Professor, Division of Neurology
Director, Laboratory of Neurochemistry
Vice President – Research, St. Joseph’s Hospital

Barrow Neurological Institute


Dr. Lukas received his BS degree in physics from the State University of New York College at Cortland and was a National Science Foundation Predoctoral Trainee at Columbia University in New York City. He went on to earn his Ph.D. in biophysics at the State University of New York Downstate Medical Center, in Brooklyn, New York. He received postdoctoral training in Chemical Biodynamics at the University of California, Berkeley, and in Neurobiology at Stanford University School of Medicine in Palo Alto, California. At Stanford, he was named NINCDS Postdoctoral Fellow and NIH Postdoctoral Trainee. Dr. Lukas is an adjunct professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and a member of the ASU-BNI Neuroscience Program at Arizona State University. He is also a member of the Neuroscience Graduate Program and a research professor in the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Arizona and its College of Medicine. He has been on the grant review committees of a number of organizations, including the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the American Cancer Society. His work focuses on nicotinic acetylcholine receptors, which are relevant to a number of neurological and other diseases, in addition to their roles in nicotine dependence and tobacco-related diseases.

Title of Grant Funded:
Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptors in Mental Health


Current Research Update: Dr. Lukas is presently studying nicotinic acetylcholine receptors in neurological and psychiatric disorders at Barrow Neurological Institute.

How IMHR Helped Facilitate This Work: “I am delighted to tell you about how Institute for Mental Health Research support facilitated one of our programs of research, progress we have made, and challenges that still lie ahead of us toward meeting the ultimate goal of developing a superior understanding of mood disorders and how to optimally treat them. Founded in part by readings of United States Surgeon General reports from the 1950s, our research program has investigated bases for the long-recognized mood stabilizing effects of nicotine, the biologically-active substance in tobacco products. Our research indicates that a number of effective antidepressant medications unexpectedly target chemical signaling molecules in the brain that respond to nicotine – “nicotinic acetylcholine receptors.” In fact, aside from my review or nomenclature articles concerning nicotinic receptors, my publications with John Fryer on antidepressant interactions with nicotinic receptors are the most highly cited of my original research work. I have been a (if not the) major driving force behind two National Institutes of Health National Cooperative Drug Discovery and Development Groups that have identified new classes of molecules that have excellent promise as drug candidates for treatment of depression and that target selected members of the nicotinic receptor family. I have authored three review articles about nicotinic receptors in depression and published 38 articles related to this topic. This work has led to patents on some of those compounds and some effort to seek partners to license the patented compounds and move them through pre-clinical studies and formal clinical trials. The long-term objective remains to provide a medication that alone is superior to other antidepressants, could be used alongside other drugs to improve treatment, and/or acts more quickly than other antidepressants, making it useful in emergency situations for treatment of individuals with suicidal ideations. There still is necessary work in biomedical discovery that is required for us to rationally and intelligently move the research program forward.”