Natural products are small molecules produced by living organisms. They can be derived from a number of sources including plants, microbes and marine organisms. Some of the most powerful compounds that affect brain and nervous system function are natural products. With the rising use of natural products among consumers as medications, abused substances, and dietary supplements, there is an increasing need for high quality research at the interface of natural products and neuroscience. To address this need, The University of Mississippi has established a Center of Research Excellence in Natural Products Neuroscience (CORE-NPN).

The University of Mississippi’s CORE-NPN brings together a critical mass of researchers with complementary backgrounds and skills to conduct systematic and rigorous investigations related to the psychoactive properties of natural products. The Center builds on the existing strength at the university in natural products research with a rapidly developing neuroscience community. The University of Mississippi is home to the National Center for Natural Products Research (NCNPR). It is the nation’s only university-affiliated research center devoted to improving human health and agricultural productivity through the discovery, development, and commercialization of pharmaceuticals and agrochemicals derived from natural products. Research at the NCNPR focuses on discovering new drugs for unmet therapeutic needs such as cancer and infectious disease. Neuroscience is an area that is not represented in the NCNPR, but one that is recognized as an important growth area. The establishment of the CORE-NPN allows investigators at The University of Mississippi to synergize with the resources provided through the existing NCNPR to address this unmet need.

Building on a strong foundation and history of excellence in natural products research, CORE-NPN involves faculty in the NCNPR as well as the Departments of Pharmacology, Pharmacognosy, Pharmaceutics, Medicinal Chemistry, Psychology, Biology, Chemistry, and Biochemistry. As additional faculty with research interests that are consistent with the center’s mission are identified, they will be incorporated into the activities of the center.

CORE-NPN allows investigators at The University of Mississippi to conduct high quality basic and mechanistic research to identify and characterize the psychoactive properties of any natural product of interest. Expertise exists among the center faculty to extract and purify the chemical constituents of plants, microbes and marine organisms; perform bioassay-guided fractionation to rapidly identify active natural products from complex mixtures of metabolites; determine the chemical structures of isolated natural products; scale up these quantities for research; perform in vitro characterizations of their actions; and perform in vivo behavioral studies to further evaluate their properties, therapeutic potential, and liabilities. Additional expertise also exists to further modify promising leads into even better therapeutic compounds, perform limited toxicity tests and formulate drug delivery systems. In collaboration with The University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, small scale clinical trials can be conducted.