Amy F.T. Arnsten
While in high school Dr. Amy F.T. Arnsten spent her summers as a volunteer at a local psychiatric hospital working with children diagnosed with mental illness and found her inspiration for her life’s work.
It was the early 1970s and the care and treatments available to psychiatric patients were limited and sometimes very crude. Arnsten stated that she knew this was an area where one could and needed to make a huge difference.
At Brown University she earned a BA in 1976 and continued her studies at the University of California San Diego earning her doctorate in 1981. Arnsten began her postdoctoral work at Yale in 1982 working under Dr. Patricia Goldman-Rakic studying the neurochemistry of the prefrontal cortex. The PFC is located at the front of the brain and is critical to decision-making, planning, predicting, and suppressing distracting thoughts or socially unacceptable behaviors. The problem with the PFC is that there is little room for error, everything has to be just right for it to function best and when we are stressed or tired its neurotransmitters don’t function properly so neither does it. There is a long list of psychiatric disorders associated with dysfunction of this cortex including post-traumatic stress disorder, attention-deficit hyperactive disorder, schizophrenia, and many more.
At the Arnsten Lab, part of the Yale School of Medicine, she leads a team of researchers in studies of the molecular influences on the higher cognitive circuits of the PFC with an overall goal of developing rational treatments for cognitive disorders in aging and mental illness. This research has led to new treatments for these disorders in humans including a FDA-approved treatment for ADHD and a second pharmacological treatment being tested in patients with PTSD including troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
The National Institutes of Health awarded Arnsten a Pioneer Award in 2013 and in 2015 Arnsten was the recipient of The Goldman-Rakic Prize for Outstanding Achievement in Cognitive Neuroscience for her work in the physiology and function of the prefrontal association cortex.
Written by Angela Goad