Two members of the Pharmacology Department have won NARSAD: The Brain and Behavior Research Fund Young Investigator Awards. They are John A. Allen, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow with the Roth Lab, and Thomas L. Kash, Ph.D., Assistant Professor.
The grants are among 214 awarded by NARSAD this year from more than 1,000 applicants at research institutes worldwide. Receiving up to $60,000 over two years, NARSAD Young Investigators pursue brain and behavior research related to schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder, autism ADHD, and anxiety disorders, such as OCD and PTSD. Since 1987, NARSAD has awarded more than $274 million in 4,046 grants to 3,319 scientists mental health scientists around the world.
John A. Allen, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in Bryan Roth’s laboratory will use a new technology and a new animal model to test whether inhibitory neurons are involved in schizophrenia. Among many hypotheses about schizophrenia, one suggestion is that it arises from biochemical changes in the brain involving the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA. The proteins that make GABA and the function of inhibitory neurons that use this neurotransmitter are decreased in individuals with schizophrenia. Dr. Allen is developing a novel way to control the activity of GABA containing neurons in mice using genetically engineered G protein-coupled receptors. In this NARSAD study, the new technology will be used in mice so that GABA inhibitory neurons, and their activity, can be remotely turned on and off using a small molecule drug. With these mice and new model, the project will test if abnormal GABA neuron activity results in schizophrenia-like behaviors. The study and new technology will enable the precise control specific GABA neuronal populations in the mouse brain and this model should provide new insights into the etiology of schizophrenia.
Thomas L. Kash, Ph.D., will investigate the ability of dynorphin, a brain opiate, to alter information flow in a brain region critical for regulation of stress and anxiety. Affective disorders, including depression, anxiety and addiction, are believed to be due in part to disruptions of specific neurochemical systems in the brain. Current treatments target classical neurotransmitter (GABA and glutamate) and neuromodulator (dopamine and norepinpehrine) systems, but complications can include side effects and lack of effectiveness. Recent work has suggested that neuropeptide signaling systems may represent novel targets for treating affective disorders. Dynorphin is suggested to be involved in a variety of stress- induced alterations in function. Dr. Kash also plans to look at the impact of repeated stress on this specific neuropeptide system and possible stress-induced alterations in behavior.