Media Advisory

Friday, October 28, 2016

Dr. Michael E. Charness to deliver 21st Annual Mark Keller Honorary Lecture at the National Institutes of Health


The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), part of the National Institutes of Health, announces that Michael E. Charness, M.D., will deliver the 21st Annual Mark Keller Honorary Lecture.  Dr. Charness is an internationally recognized neurologist and internal medicine specialist whose work has greatly advanced our understanding of how alcohol affects the development of the nervous system.  Throughout his career, Dr. Charness has done groundbreaking research and has treated hundreds of patients with neurological complications of alcohol use disorder and peripheral nerve disorders.


Dr. Charness is professor of neurology and faculty associate dean at Harvard Medical School, Boston, and professor of neurology and associate dean at Boston University School of Medicine. He was chief of neurology at the VA Boston Healthcare System from 1996 until 2003.  As of 2003, he has served as chief of staff at the VA Boston Healthcare System, where he is responsible for clinical care, education, and research.

Early in his career, when Dr. Charness was investigating the interaction between alcohol and the developing nervous system, he noted that the neuropathology observed in individuals with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) strongly resembled that seen in individuals with various genetic syndromes attributable to mutations in the gene encoding the L1 neural cell adhesion molecule. L1 is critical in neural development as this molecule guides newly developed nerve cells to their proper locations within the brain. Disruption in L1-mediated cell adhesion could lead to the loss of neurons (cell-death) or the abnormal wiring of neural connections, either of which could lead to cognitive deficits that may be lifelong.

Dr. Charness recognized that the L1 neural cell adhesion molecule is likely a target of alcohol, and that it has a role in the development of FASD. More specifically, he found that alcohol inhibits L1-mediated cell adhesion by interacting with an alcohol binding pocket in the L1 extracellular domain.

Through his important work with animal models, Dr. Charness identified certain agents or trophic factors that may block alcohol’s effect on L1, potentially preventing alcohol from interfering with prenatal development. The ultimate goal of this line of research is to understand the toxic effects of alcohol on the developing nervous system, thereby helping to prevent, diagnose, and treat alcohol-related birth defects.


Thursday, Nov. 3, 3 p.m. EDT


NIAAA established the Mark Keller Honorary Lecture Series as a tribute to Mr.  Keller’s pioneering contributions to the field of alcohol research. Each fall, the series features a lecture by an outstanding alcohol researcher whose work makes significant and long-term contributions to our understanding of how alcohol affects the body and mind, how we can prevent, diagnose and treat alcohol misuse and alcohol use disorder, and how today's scientific advancements can provide hope for tomorrow. NIAAA is pleased to present this series of scientific lectures to acknowledge the advances researchers are making in a wide range of alcohol-related research, and to honor the memory of an individual whose pioneering research remains relevant today.

For additional information about the lecture see:

The Keller Honorary Lecture is free and open to the public. Sign language interpreters will be provided. For other reasonable accommodations or further information call Joanna Mayo, 301-443-3860, or visit For TTY callers, please call the above number through the Federal Relay Service at 1-800-877-8339. 

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) is part of the National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Its mission is to generate and disseminate fundamental knowledge about the effects of alcohol on health and well-being, and apply that knowledge to improve diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of alcohol-related problems, including alcohol use disorder, across the lifespan.  Alcohol research information and publications from NIAAA are available at Online ordering for both English and Spanish publications is available at:

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit

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