Neurobiology and Behavior Research

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Division of Neurobiology and Behavior Research

The past 20 years has brought enormous advances in fields of science that contribute to our understanding of the biology of psychiatric illnesses and their treatment. However, the great expansion of information in "psychiatric neuroscience" has been reductionistic in nature, i.e. there has been an accumulation of extensive details of the molecular nature of biological processes that contribute to brain function.

Despite the flood of knowledge in molecular neuroscience, our understanding of how molecular events lead to normal and abnormal behavior remains incomplete and inadequate. The faculty of the Division of Neurobiology and Behavior Research (DNBR) are engaged in research activities designed to build bridges between cellular/molecular events and behavior. These efforts can be described best as "forward" and "reverse" translational psychiatry research.

Psychiatry research that is forward translational attempts to explain how neuronal activity, beginning at the molecular level, 'translates' to the production of behavior, and to utilize this information to develop new or better pharmacological and behavioral treatments for psychiatric illnesses. Reverse translational research in psychiatry attempts to determine the molecular underpinnings that contribute to the expression of abnormal behavior. Inherent in the latter research are efforts to explain the pathology of psychiatric illness at the level of molecular neurochemistry (including genomics) or neuroanatomy.

The discovery of human brain abnormalities associated with psychiatric disease, whether morphological or at the level of the transcriptome, does not imply a cause of illness. Therefore, researchers must take human pathological findings "back to the bench" in order to understand them. That is, these findings must be interpreted in the laboratory using non-human systems (cell culture, animal models) in order to investigate their molecular pathogenesis and potential for triggering abnormal behavior.

In the DNBR, numerous psychiatric illnesses are under study, including major depression, schizophrenia, substance abuse disorders, developmental disorders such as autism, sleep disorders, and Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. The outcome of the division's research activities carries the promise of novel and/or improved approaches to the treatment of psychiatric illnesses. Most of the faculty members of the DNBR are located in the first floor of the Arthur C. Guyton Laboratory Research Building at UMMC.

The Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior founded the Graduate Program in Neuroscience in 2007 under Dr. Ian A. Paul, professor of psychiatry and human behavior, who served as its first director from 2007-14. The department continues to play a major role with Dr. Donna Platt as director of the program.

The Program in Neuroscience (PIN) is an interdepartmental collaborative PhD training program that includes faculty members from basic and clinical departments across the UMMC campus, including the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior. PIN receives generous stipend support from the School of Graduate Studies in the Health Sciences and currently trains nearly 20 PhD and MD/PhD students. All of the faculty in the DNBR participate in the PIN teaching and research training. In addition, psychiatry residents have the unique opportunity to participate in basic/clinical research activities of the PIN and DNBR as a part of a research elective in the residency training program.

Faculty currently receive generous support from UMMC as well as external support from the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Institute of Drug Abuse, National Institute of General Medical Sciences, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the Alzheimer's Association, and pharmaceutical manufacturers and developers. The division currently has nearly $3 million per year in external research support, most of which comes from the National Institutes of Health. The division is also home to the Center for Psychiatric Neuroscience dedicated to building research infrastructure at UMMC and the development of young faculty through mentoring and a pilot program.