Pamela Lein, PhD – Co-Director, Career Development Program

Pam Lein’s interest in toxicology started when she was an environmental science major at Cornell University. She became fascinated with the poisonous plant garden at Cornell’s veterinary school where her father was a professor. “I decided to take a course in poisonous plants while I was there, and that is how I was introduced to the concept of toxicology,” says Dr. Lein. She began to see that many problems in society revolve around chemical effects on biological systems. To her, understanding “how chemicals modify biology and how that manifests at the organism level,” is a puzzle, and she loves puzzles.

Dr. Lein’s primary focus has been on how environmental stressors interact with genetic susceptibilities to influence the risk and severity of neurodevelopmental disorders and neurodegeneration, in particular how chemicals (for example certain drugs, pesticides and persistent organic pollutants) and inflammation disrupt biochemical, morphogenic and electrophysiological parameters that determine how neurons connect and communicate with each other in the brain, and in the peripheral nervous system. Her team is also developing biomarkers of OP neurotoxicity and testing novel therapeutic approaches for protecting against the harmful effects associated with neurotoxic exposure.

Recently, Dr. Lein and project scientist, Dr. Cris Grodzki, were awarded an EHSC pilot grant to examine the asthmatic effects of chlorpyrifos using a pre-clinical model. Chlorpyrifos, an organophosphorus pesticide, is used on a variety of fruits and vegetables, most commonly on apples, peaches, bell peppers, almonds, and cranberries. While chlorpyrifos residue ingested from food is a concern, perhaps more important is that chlorpyrifos attaches itself to dust particles. Despite the EPA requiring a 300-foot “buffer” wherever the pesticide is sprayed, dust with chlorpyrifos attached can travel much farther. Among the pesticide’s many negative effects, which include a reduction in IQ, decreased working memory ability, and an association with Autism Spectrum Disorders, chlorpyrifos may be a contributing factor to the increased prevalence of asthma.

Pamela Lein, PhD is the Co-Director of the EHS Center Career Development Program. She also directs the UC Davis NIEHS T32 Program and the UC Davis CounterACT Center. To learn more about her lab’s research, please visit her lab’s webpage

This article was excerpted from an original article by Benjamin Sipes.