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William Atchison

Professor of Pharmacology and Toxicology, Michigan State University

Research Interests:
The nervous system has long been recognized as one of the most susceptible organ systems to insult from toxic environmental contaminants due to its limited capacity to repair tissue damage. Unlike other tissues such as liver, kidney or skin, for which cellular repair occurs readily, toxicity to the nervous system is generally irreversible. During the last few years, interest has focused on the study of neurotoxicology. This is due to the heightened awareness of society to the potential for neurotoxicity following disastrous or potentially disastrous episodes of contamination seen with agents such as methylmercury in Japan and Iraq, polychlorinated and polybrominated biphenyls in Taiwan and here in the U.S.A., and insecticides such as mirex and kepone. Historically, most neurotoxicology studies have focused on pathological descriptions of the lesions observed clinically in affected individuals. Few mechanistic studies at the cellular level have been undertaken, so the toxic mechanisms of action of these agents remain largely unknown.

My research interest is the study of effects of chemicals on the nervous system, particularly those chemicals which act directly on the synapse. My primary research interest is in the cellular mechanism of action of chemicals which disrupt Ca2+-dependent processes at the membrane and intracelluarly. A variety of techniques including electrophysiological recordings of ion channel activity (patch-voltage clamp) and synaptic transmission (intracellular and extracellular microelectrode recording techniques), neurochemical analysis of synaptic function and fluorescent microscopy and digital imaging of intracellular ion concentrations using fluorescent probes such as Fura-2. Toxicological research interests are presently focused on the effects of heavy metals such as methylmercury, many of which exert potent toxic actions at chemical synapses, and on the potential interaction of environmental toxicants with diseases in the cardiovascular and nervous systems. An additional area of research is in neuroscience, and is directed at understanding mechanism of neuronal damage associated with human motor neuron and neuromuscular diseases- especially identifying the molecular entities involved in Ca2+-dependent neurosecretion.

Educational Background:
University of Wisconsin, B.S., Molecular Biology, 1974
University of Wisconsin, M.S., Pharmacology, 1978
University of Wisconsin, Ph.D., Pharmacology, 1980

Selected Professional Activities:
Dr. Atchison completed post doctoral training at Northwestern University. He received a NIEHS postdoctoral fellowship and the Oscar Rennebohm Pharmacy Teaching Award. He was awarded the Research Career Development Award from NIEHS from 1987-1992 and received the Beecham Pharmaceutical Company Award for Research Excellence in 1988. In 1995, he was honored with the Society of Toxicology, Board of Publications Award for the Best Paper. He was also honored with the AstraZeneca Traveling Lectureship Award from the SOT in 2003. He belongs to the American Society of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, the Biophysical Society, the Society for Neuroscience, and the Society of Toxicology.


  • –present
    Professor of Pharmacology and Toxicology, Michigan State University