Research Interests

I am a neuroscientist who studies the brain biology of emotions. This involves uncovering genetic, molecular, and developmental mechanisms that control brain circuits that mediate both negative and positive affect. We have developed models in rodents to define the genetic and developmental bases of differences in temperament (inborn tendencies for anxiety vs. novelty seeking). We have defined the implications of these genetic differences in reacting to environmental conditions including responsiveness to stress and propensity for anxiety and addictive behaviors. This basic research complements our human work in the context of the Pritzker Research Consortium. In humans, we rely on genetic and genomic approaches to discover molecules that contribute to vulnerability to mood disorders-- Major Depression and Bipolar Illness. An example of this integrative approach is our discovery that the Fibroblast Growth Factor (FGF) family is highly altered in the brains of severely depressed individuals. Our follow-up animal studies show that FGFs, known to orchestrate brain development, also play a lifelong role in controlling mood and emotions. They are both genetic predisposing factors and mediators of environmental impact on emotionality. Altering them during early development or in adulthood has profound effects on anxiety, depression and substance abuse, and initiates the remodeling of brain circuits critical to these behaviors. FGF downstream mediators represent new targets for developing anti-anxiety and anti-depressant drugs.

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Primary Section

Section 28: Systems Neuroscience

Secondary Section

Section 24: Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience