Olivier Civelli Selected as a 2021 Samueli Scholar

Olivier Civelli

Olivier Civelli, PhD, professor of pharmaceutical sciences at the UCI School of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences, is part of the inaugural class of Susan Samueli Integrative Health Institute (SSIHI) Samueli Scholar awardees.   

The Samueli Scholars Award Program recognizes current UCI faculty whose achievements show extraordinary promise to advance basic, translational, or clinical scholarship in integrative health and have a history of contributions of national distinction in their disciplines.  

Using his innovative reverse pharmacology approach, Civelli plans to advance integrative health by investigating natural compounds of therapeutic plants. One of his recent research focuses is the plant Corydalis yanhusuo. According to a recent study led by the University of California, Irvine, this plant extract prevents morphine tolerance and dependence while reversing opiate addiction. Specifically, Civelli plans to test the use of the Corydalis yanhusuo extract in acute, inflammatory, and chronic pain and uncover its role in limiting morphine adverse effects. The potential impact of these discoveries may help curb the opioid epidemic. The findings were published in the October 2021 issue of the journal Pharmaceuticals

Olivier Civelli, PhD, is a joint professor of pharmaceuticals sciences and development & cellular biology. He is also the Eric and Lila Nelson Chair of Neuropharmacology. Civelli paved the way for the discovery of neuromodulators and their receptors by pioneering reverse pharmacology. He was the first to decipher the structure of a dopamine receptor, the D2 receptor, central to movement, reward and addiction. He also elucidated the diversity of the dopamine receptor family, discovered the D4 receptor, which is of particular importance because of its selectivity for the atypical antipsychotic clozapine.  

In addition, Civelli discovered the unexpected adenosine A3 receptor. He recognized that many cloned GPCRs had no known endogenous ligands, hence called orphan receptors. He invented the strategy that uses orphan receptors to discover new neurotransmitters. Utilizing this strategy, he was the first to identify a novel neuropeptide, orphanin FQ/nociceptin, revealed to regulate anxiety. He went on to find the receptors for melanin-concentrating hormone, urotensin II and neuropeptide S. 

The Samueli Scholar designation supports research that focuses on integrative health, defined as areas of investigation aimed at accelerating the evidence-based understanding and implementation of therapies for whole-person care. 

The inaugural class of Susan Samueli Integrative Health Institute (SSIHI) Samueli Scholar awardees includes Geoffrey W. Abbott, PhD; Angela G. Fleischman, MD, PhD; Kalpna Gupta, PhD; Michelle Khine, PhD; and Xiangmin Xu, PhD. 

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