Yale Psychiatry Researchers Receive NARSAD Awards

Three Yale School of Medicine researchers investigating schizophrenia, depression and Tourette’s syndrome recently were awarded grants from the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression.

The Distinguished Investigator Awards are highly selective and are made to scientists with promising lines of research on the causes, treatments and prevention of mental illnesses. The one-year grants of up to $100,000 are intended to encourage experienced scientists to explore diverse areas of neuropsychiatric research that present special opportunities for discovery.

“A striking aspect of this year’s competition is the degree to which genetics has come to involve multiple areas of investigation, from cell biology to behavior, with extremely interesting projects,” NARSAD stated in announcing the grants.

The Yale recipients and their research include:

Angus Nairn, professor of psychiatry and pharmacology, is studying brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which has been implicated in many psychiatric disorders including schizophrenia and depression. Using state-of-the-art proteomic biotechnologies, Nairn will seek to identify novel protein targets for BDNF that are synthesized in neurons and novel substrates for Akt, which is a critical enzyme involved in several signal transduction pathways. Identifying these novel targets would represent an important advance in elucidating the complete function of BDNF. If successful, these proteomic approaches would be extended to the neurotrophic factors that may be involved in psychiatric disorders.

Paul Lombroso, M.D., a professor at the Yale Child Study Center, will use an animal model to investigate the molecular events associated with Tourette syndrome. Tourette is a childhood disorder characterized by repetitive movements and vocalizations. It is believed that blocking dopamine receptors prevents the repetitive movements, however, it is unclear how dopamine signals lead to stereotypes. Lombroso will seek to identify proteins that contribute to this process and will focus on a family of protein tyrosine phosphatases called striatal enriched tyrosine phosphatases, or STEP.

John Krystal, M.D., a professor of psychiatry, will use functional magnetic resonance imaging that involves a saline and ketamine infusion in fixed order and data analysis to collect pilot data on 20 healthy human subjects. He will use this data to determine if GABRA2 (a selective subpopulation of GABA-A receptors containing the alpha-2 subunit) and NMDA receptors are related to the cognitive deficits in schizophrenia. In addition to further implicating GABRA2 and NMDA receptors n the cognitive deficits of schizophrenia, this project may also provide a human lab-based paradigm for testing the efficacy of therapeutic agents targeting GABRA2.

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