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Investigators’ work lauded by mental health research group

BY: LESLIE HAST

8/01/2008 - Three Vanderbilt Medical Center researchers recently received Young Investigator Awards from the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression (NARSAD), the world's leading mental health research charity.

The two-year, $60,000 awards — given to early-career scientists who study psychiatric disorders — went to:

• Baxter Rogers, Ph.D., research assistant professor of Radiology and Radiological Sciences, will use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to determine how different parts of the hippocampus interact with cognitive networks in other parts of the brain. Studying these subdivisions may help contribute to understanding the functional roles of the hippocampus and how it breaks down in psychiatric disorders.

• Tina Iverson, Ph.D., assistant professor of Pharmacology, will study the sensing of the neurotransmitter dopamine, a chemical that turns on the reward pathways in the human brain. Dysfunction in dopamine-sensing pathways can lead to Tourette's syndrome, schizophrenia, ADHD and addiction. Iverson has discovered a new way to stabilize the reward system in an activated state and will use this to examine the dopamine signaling mechanism and to develop additional ways to stabilize the activated reward pathway.

• Christopher Olsen, Ph.D., research instructor in Molecular Physiology and Biophysics, will investigate physiological changes in a rarely studied population of neurons (dopamine neurons within the A10dc region) following repeated stress. Repeated stress can lead to long-term changes in mental health, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder and depression. The A10dc region is implicated in depressive-like behaviors and sends dopamine projections to areas of the brain implicated in anxiety.

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