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Department of Physiology and Pharmacology


  – Department History
– Teaching in Physiology
– Principles of Pharmacology

– Graduate Program
– Departmental Contact

– Acknowledgements

Prior to 1956, there was a single Department of Physiology and Pharmacology at our institution - then called the State University of New York (SUNY) College of Medicine at New York City (even though located in Brooklyn) and later changed in name to SUNY Downstate Medical Center and finally to SUNY Health Science Center at Brooklyn. However, in 1956, with the opening of the Basic Science Building on Clarkson Avenue with its ample space and with good financial support from the State, separate departments of Physiology and Pharmacology were established. Professor Chandler Brooks, who had headed the joint department, stayed on as chairman of the separate Department of Physiology and as Dean of the newly organized graduate school, and I had the good fortune to be appointed as the first Chairman of the new separate Department of Pharmacology. As it does today, the department occupied most of the space (over 25,000 square feet) on the sixth floor of the Basic Science Building. At that time, about one quarter of the space assigned to the department was designated as space for laboratory exercises for medical students taking the pharmacology course. However, over the years, with the gradual phasing out of such exercises, that space has been largely converted to space for research laboratories.With the start of the new department in 1956, I was able to recruit a number of new faculty members over the first couple of years. Most of them were doing research in what was then termed biochemical pharmacology. One of them, Dr. C.Y. Kao, who continued as a member of the department until his untimely death in May, 1998, was a pioneer in studying the effects of drugs on the electrophysiological properties of smooth muscle cells. Our graduate student training program began in the first year of the new department. From 1960 to 1982, when I retired from the chairmanship of the department, we had support for our graduate training program from the National Institutes of Health. Many of our graduate students and postdoctoral fellows from those years have had distinguished careers in academia and in the pharmaceutical industry.From 1982 to 1989, the department was headed by an acting chairman - first for two years by Dr. Julius Belford, now retired, and then for five years by Dr. Stanley Friedman, who is still a very active member of the department both in teaching and research. In 1989, Dr. Robert Wong, a professor at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, became the new chairman of the department. By that time I had retired and the number of faculty members remaining in the department was reduced to five, Dr. Wong recruited a number of new faculty members within the first few years, so that there are now 14 full time members in the department. The research interests of Dr. Wong and the new faculty members, as can be seen from the individual faculty listings, are mainly in the neurosciences. The influx of new faculty members with active research programs has again made the department a stimulating place for the training of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. As of March 1998, the Department of Pharmacology once more joined with the Department of Physiology to form a single Department of Physiology and Pharmacology with Dr. Wong as its chairperson.


The Physiology Division of the Department teaches two major disciplines for the College of Medicine: Systems Physiology and Neurophysiology. Systems Physiology appears as a component of many of the organ-based blocks in the first year curriculum for medical students: those blocks covering the musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, respiratory, gastrointestinal, renal, and endocrine systems. It consists of about 45 hours of lecture presentations by the faculty, about 45 hours of clinically-relevant small-group sessions led by the faculty and four series of active "Case-Based" learning sessions (totalling about 20 hours) in which the students develop learning issues and present the results of their search for information and their readings in relation to a clinical case. Systems Physiology emphasizes the functions of the components of the human organism concentrating on how they contribute to the overall homeostatic control of the internal environment.

– In the Musculoskeletal Block the general concepts of cellular physiology are presented, focusing on how components of the cell membranes produce potential differences across the cell and how these contribute to the processes underlying the rapid communication between cells that is responsible for body movement.

– In the Cardiovascular Block additional mechanisms of cellular and organ system physiology are explored in relation to the electrical and mechanical properties of the heart leading to the cardiac cycle as well as the control of fluid dynamics of the vasculature.

–The Respiratory Block focuses on the functions of the lungs and their alveoli in gas exchange between the blood and the inspired air, providing oxygen and removing carbon dioxide waste.

–The Gastrointestinal Block presents the mechanisms of epithelial transport of nutrients, movement of water and electrolytes, and secretions by the stomach, intestines, liver and pancreas, as well as intestinal motility.

–The Renal Block covers the regulation of body fluid osmolarity and volumes, electrolyte and acid-base balance and excretion of waste by the elements of the nephron.

–The Endocrine Block deals with the mechanisms by which the hormones influence all of the processes of the body with an emphasis on pituitary, adrenal, thyroid, pancreatic and gonadal hormones. Neurophysiology is half of the material in the Neurosciences Block, that is shared with Neuroanatomy. The Neurophysiology component consists of about 25 hours of lecture presentations by the faculty, about 25 hours of clinically-relevant small-group sessions and two series of active "Case-Based" learning sessions (totalling about 12 hours) in which the students develop learning issues and present the results of their search for information and their readings in relation to a clinical case. Neurophysiology emphasizes the functions of neurons and neural circuitry, concentrating on how they contribute to sensation, motor behavior and cognition.

– In the General Structure Miniblock the gross structure of central nervous system is presented, as well as some information on its cellular structure, development and vascular system.

– In the Information Processing Miniblock the focus is on the mechanisms of transmission and integration of information by neuronal circuitry.

–The Sensory Systems Miniblock discusses the mechanisms and circuitry of the somatosensory, visual, auditory and vestibular, and olfactory and taste systems.

– The Motor Systems Miniblock describes the components of the motor systems in the cerebral cortex, the basal ganglia, the cerebellum and the spinal cord in relation to behavior of the organism.

–The Integrative Systems Miniblock deals with the hypothalamus, the limbic system and the reticular formation and their relation to behavior.

–The Higher Functions Miniblock presents some cellular mechanisms and regional localization of components of cognitive processing by the brain.


In the new revised curriculum, teaching of pharmacology by discipline is replaced by blocks of instruction created by a committee structure appointed by the Dean. Each block is led by a team that has created an interdisciplinary course relating to specific organ systems. Pharmacology appears as a component of the organ based blocks in the second year curriculum. Some of the material is given in a lecture format but much of the material has been incorporated into case based sessions in which students learn the basic sciences in the context of a clinical case by developing learning issues and reporting the results of their readings and library research in small group sessions with a faculty facilitator. Other modalities used to teach pharmacology include patient oriented problem solving sessions, conferences and videotapes. There are 45 hours of lecture and 17 hours of small group teaching exclusive of the case based sessions.Basic principles of pharmacology including pharmacokinetics and receptor theory are introduced in the first block on Infection and Immunity. Pharmacologic agents that are used to treat infectious disease and that modify the immune system are presented in this block.In the Musculoskeletal Block, drugs used to treat arthropathies and other rheumatologic diseases are introduced in the case based learning sessions. The current modalities for treating osteoporosis are discussed.The pharmacologic focus in the Neoplasia Block is centered on cytotoxic agents and other agents that modify tumor growth.In the Cardiovascular Block, receptor mechanisms and second messenger systems are characterized. Their role in explaining autonomic pharmacology is emphasized. Drugs affecting electrical and mechanical properties of the heart and those that alter pathologic mechanisms in the vasculature are introduced.In the Respiratory Block, agents that alter airway patency are discussed in the case based learning session.The Renal Block covers diuretics and the pharmacologic basis for the treatment of hypertension.The Endocrine/Reproductive Block emphasizes the treatment of hormonal abnormalities such as hyperthyroidism and diabetes, reproductive problems and contraception.The Gastrointestinal Block presents agents that alter gastrointestinal motility and epithelial transport of water and electrolytes.In the Neuroscience Block, the physical and biological characteristics of anesthetic agents are presented. Agents acting on receptor systems in the central nervous system are introduced and their role in the treatment of degenerative diseases and abnormal mental states are discussed. Agents that modify mechanisms that control pain production and perception are presented.


Members of the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology participate in the school-wide programs in Neural and Behavioral Science and Molecular Cell Biology.

The Department of Pharmacology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn merged with the Department of Physiology in 1998 to form a combined Department of Physiology and Pharmacology. In practice this was a small change, as many of the faculty in the two Departments interacted frequently and even shared a seminar program. At the same time, graduate education at SUNY DMC was in the process of major reorganization with the phasing out of the Department based programs, including the Graduate Program in Pharmacology. The six old departmental programs have been replaced with two integrated programs, one called Neural and Behavioral Science (NBS), and the other Molecular and Cellular Biology (MCB). However, research directions in individual labs did not change as a result of the reorganization of the Graduate School Programs, and faculty research continues to be particularly strong in the areas of neuroscience, physiology, and pharmacology.

The Department of Physiology and Pharmacology has a well funded and very active body of researchers conducting investigations into the mode of action of numerous drugs and chemicals on biological tissues. The Graduate School currently has 88 graduate students of which 36 are registered in the Neural and Behavioral Science Program. Several faculty members endow the Department with substantial name recognition derived from the discoveries made here. One example is the discovery of EDRF (endothelium derived relaxing factor) or nitric oxide and its role in cardiovascular regulation and signal transduction. Dr. Furchgott of our department was awarded the 1998 Nobel Prize in Medicine for his work. Other members of the faculty are gaining significant international recognition for their work on the mechanism of long-term memory and related brain functions. At present our principal emphasis is on the nervous system, and accordingly many of our faculty are affiliated with the Program in Neural and Behavioral Science, but it also includes research that is carried out on the effects of drugs on excitable membranes in general, and the biosynthesis of nucleic acids and proteins. These studies are quite diverse and include the molecular mechanisms underlying learning and memory, translational control in neurons, the pharmacology and physiology of epilepsy, the functional organization of the mammalian cerebral cortex, ion pumps, and the actions of serotonin and ATP on ion channels.

The techniques used in our Department include molecular biology, protein chemistry, biophysical approaches, such as voltage clamping and patch clamping in brain slices and the study of single channel currents in isolated cells, as well as behavioral approaches. The Physiology division includes groups interested in the autonomic, cardiovascular, endocrine and general physiology systems as well as a hippocampal physiology group with several faculty who use behavioral techniques in conjunction with various animal models.

Our areas of strength in graduate education are in the principles of pharmacology and in neuroscience. Members of the department felt that we needed a graduate course that was designed more for the graduate student doing research rather than to have students take parts of the medical school course. One area of significant expertise is neuropharmacology. Members of the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology have initiated a new graduate course in neuroscience. Our approach benefits from the almost even split between the number of faculty that use molecular biological and biochemical approaches on the one-hand, and electrophysiological and behavioral approaches on the other. One measure of its success is the unusual level of discussion that is generated in classes that can become more akin to debates than formal lectures.

The Department of Physiology and Pharmacology currently has close to 25 post-doctoral trainees and the majority of their continuing education is obtained by attending the numerous seminars, work in progress talks given by graduate students, and lectures given by faculty in graduate courses. Some of our post-doctoral trainees participate in teaching at the graduate level or in certain medical school lectures.

For a more complete description of the courses offered by the NBS program see:


Courses offered by members of the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology Fall 2008:

G-100, 2 Cr, Pharmacology Methods and Experimental Pharmacology, Faculty, Labs

G-105, 1 Cr, Journal Club - Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience, A. Iacoangeli/I. A. Muslimov/J. Zhong/H. Tiedge

G-106, 1 Cr, Current Topics in Neuropharmacology, R. K. S. Wong

G-504, 1 Cr, Neuroscience Seminar Series, Rena Orman

G-107, 1 Cr, Seminars in Physiology & Biophysics, 1.5 hrs

G-108, 3 Cr, Introduction to Neuroscience (Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience)


Courses offered by the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology Spring 2009

G-100, 2 Cr, Pharmacology Methods and Experimental Pharmacology, Faculty, Labs

G-105, 1 Cr, Journal Club - Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience, A. Iacoangeli/I. A. Muslimov/J. Zhong/H. Tiedge

G-106, 1 Cr, Current Topics in Neuropharmacology, R. K. S. Wong

G-107, 2 Cr, Selected Topics in Drug Metabolism, A. Gidari

G-504, 1 Cr, Neuroscience Seminar Series,  Rena Orman

G-206, 1 Cr, Special Topics in Pharmacology, I. Kass/R. K. S. Wong

G-210, 2 Cr, Dendritic Spines: Structure, Function, Plasticity, I. A. Muslimov/J. Zhong/H. Tiedge

M-100, 6 Cr, Neuroscience, COM schedule, additional sessions for Graduate Students



Department of Physiology and Pharmacology
State University of New York
Health Science Center at Brooklyn
450 Clarkson Avenue
Brooklyn, New York 11203
Telephone: (718) 270 1339
Fax: (718) 270 2241

Rose M. Savage-Jackman, MPH

Senior Department Administrator for Physiology and Pharmacology
Extension 1339

Jacqueline Alvarez

Department Administrator and Assistant to Vice Chair
Extension 1153

George G. Burke

Associate Department Administrator and Assistant to the Chairman
Extension 1338

Barbara-Jean Mathis

Assistant Department Administrator and Assistant to the Senior Department Administrator
Extension 1339


Editor: Henri Tiedge, Ph.D.
Project Coordination: Rose Jackman, M.P.H., and George Burke
Web Design: Aaron Cormier, Frank Fasano
Photography: John Zubrovich / Ernie Cunie