Dr Jacques Drouin (right) is photographed with Dr Yvon Berland
Dr. Jacques Drouin (right) with Dr. Yvon Berland, President of Aix-Marseille Université

Dr. Jacques Drouin, Director of the Molecular Genetics Laboratory at the Institut de Recherches Cliniques de Montréal (IRCM) and a McGill Adjunct Professor in the Departments of Biochemistry and Anatomy and Cell Biology as well as with the Division of Experimental Medicine of the Faculty of Medicine received a Honoris Causa Degree from Aix-Marseille Université at its Annual Thesis Ceremony which was held on November 18 at the Palais du Pharo in Marseille.

The biographical note of the Honorary Degree in Medicine underscored the contributions of Dr. Jacques Drouin and his research group on the mechanisms of development, function and pathogenesis of the pituitary gland. These contributions include the discovery of gene expression control factors of the Pitx (pituitary homeobox) gene family and of the Tpit factor that are both essential for development and function of the pituitary. The Pitx factors also play critical roles in development including posterior limb identity (Pitx1), skeletal muscle development (Pitx2 and Pitx3), and survival of neurons causing Parkinson Disease (Pitx3). On the other hand, Tpit is essential for production of the hormone ACTH and differentiation of cells producing this hormone, such that mutations of the human TPIT gene cause a hormone deficiency that is lethal in newborns. Recognition of the critical role of TPIT gene mutations in this disease yielded a diagnostic test and therapies that produce complete cure. More recently, the IRCM group showed that the transcription factor Pax7 pioneers chromatin remodelling to trigger pituitary cell differentiation.

The Drouin group also investigates mechanisms of hormone action, in particular the actions of glucocorticoids and their receptors. In the pituitary, resistance to these steroids is critical for development of Cushing disease that is caused by benign tumours that have devastating effects, including metabolic disorders, hypertension, diabetes and osteoporosis. Research carried out by the group identified mechanisms for hormone resistance and their effect on cell proliferation and tumour development.

This research was supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and by the National Cancer Institute of Canada.

December 8, 2014