The center aims to be a nexus for rigorous, innovative and impactful scientific investigation. Explore center members' research specializations and find their contact information below.
Shana Augustin, PhD
The Augustin Lab studies the molecular mechanisms of synaptic transmission and its modulation by G-protein-coupled receptors to control motor actions and decision-making.
Augustin is particularly interested in the flow of information through the cortico-basal ganglia circuits and how this flow is disrupted with alcohol and substance use disorder. The lab uses an integrative approach combining physiology, behavior and optical imaging techniques.
Hongxin Dong, MD, PhD
Dong's research focuses on the interaction of genetic and environmental influences on neurodevelopment and aging and their relevance to the pathogenesis of neuropsychiatric disorders, particularly Alzheimer’s disease.
Dong's laboratory has focused on a continuous and integrated program of investigating genetic alterations and environmental effects on neurodevelopment and aging, and their relevance to the pathogenesis of neurodegenerative and neuropsychiatric disorders, particularly Alzheimer’s disease. The group's ongoing NIH-funded projects aim to discover novel molecular genetics and epigenetic mechanisms underlying neuropsychological disorders, using human antemortem clinical assessments and postmortem tissues, as well as animal models. The findings from the translational work will help in the development of new therapeutic strategies to slow disease onset and prevent progression.
Talia Lerner, PhD
Lerner studies the neural circuit basis of motivation, reward learning and habit formation.
The Lerner Lab studies the neural circuit basis of motivation, reward learning and decision-making. The group is interested in how individual differences in neural circuits compel different types of interaction with the world. They are particularly interested in the neural circuits driving the release of neuromodulators such as dopamine and serotonin, as these chemical systems are the targets of many drugs of abuse as well as of many psychiatric medications.
Hao Li, PhD
Li studies the role of neuropeptides in mediating motivational processes in health and disease.
Li completed his PhD in neuroscience with Thomas Jhou, PhD, at the Medical University of South Carolina, studying circuit mechanisms underlying punishment processing. In 2019, Li started his postdoctoral training with Kay Tye, PhD, at the Salk Institute, focusing on how neurotensin guides valence assignment in the amygdala during associative learning.
Herbert Meltzer, MD
Meltzer's research focuses on cognitive and movement disorders in psychiatric patients.
Meltzer's current research interests include 1. development of novel drugs for treatment and prevention of psychosis, depression, opioid abuse, and age associated cognitive impairment; 2. behavioral and neurochemical studies of antipsychotic, antidepressant, cognitive improving, and anti-suicide drugs; and 3. genetic biomarkers.
Jones Parker, PhD
The Parker laboratory's research focuses on using in vivo recordings to understand the dopamine system’s role in normal and pathological behavioral processes. Their goal is to exploit nodes within the dopamine system to comprehensively treat brain disease.
To probe the neural basis of neuropsychiatric disease and neuropharmacological efficacy, Parker's research team performs large-scale recordings of striatal activity using miniaturized fluorescence microscopes and two-photon microscopy in transgenic mice to selectively record from genetically defined neuronal subpopulations. They combine these tools with viral genetic and pharmacological manipulations in healthy animals and animal models of neuropsychiatric diseases to better understand both normal and aberrant striatal function.
Reesha Patel, PhD
Patel's goal is to understand how neuroimmune mechanisms and social factors interact with neural circuits contributing to mental health disorders.
In an effort to identify more efficacious therapeutics, the lab investigates the mechanistic impact of previously understudied contributing factors, including social stress and neuro-immune signaling on discrete neuronal circuits and how they give rise to aberrant behavioral phenotypes associated with stress-related mental health disorders.
Faculty Page: https://reeshapatellab.org/
Sachin Patel, MD, PhD
The group's goal is to elucidate the mechanisms by which stress affects brain structure and function, leading to susceptibility to mental illnesses, with a focus on endocannabinoid signaling systems. By understanding these mechanisms, they hope to uncover new molecular targets for development of novel therapeutics.
The Patel Lab believes that advances in understanding the pathophysiology of complex multifactorial diseases, such as depression, addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder, require a multidisciplinary approach. Their research group utilizes a variety of research techniques including ex vivo electrophysiology, functional anatomy, optogenetics, calcium imaging, biochemistry and animal behavior to tackle fundamental questions regarding the nature of psychiatric diseases.
Peter Penzes, PhD
Research in Penzes' lab centers on the molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying synapse dysfunction in mental disorders. The group studies the genetic substrates of autism spectrum disorder, intellectual disability, epilepsy, schizophrenia, bipolar disease, rare and orphan disorders, and Alzheimer's disease.
The group's mission is to uncover the molecular and cellular mechanisms whereby neurons communicate with each other within brain circuits and how they malfunction in neuropsychiatric disorders and then to use this knowledge to develop new therapies for such disorders.
Recent developments in human genomics have uncovered mutations and variants associated with neuropsychiatric disorders. These gene sets are highly enriched in synaptic molecules, pointing to synapses as being one of the key cellular substrates in their pathologies. Hence they are investigating the synaptic functions and pathogenic mechanisms of important risk factors for autism, intellectual disability, epilepsy, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and Alzheimer's disease.
Epilepsy and seizure disorders often co-occur with autism and intellectual disability. Shared genetic risk factors associated with both epilepsy and neurodevelopmental disorders could provide an entry point into investigations of such mechanisms. Penzes' team has uncovered mechanisms whereby neurodevelopmental disorder risk factors also regulate ion channel homeostasis and excitatory/inhibitory balance in neuronal circuits.
Using proteomics, the research group has discovered that a large number of neuronal membrane proteins undergo ectodomain shedding. This "sheddome" is detectable in the cerebrospinal fluid and is enriched in synaptic proteins and disease risk factors. Unexpectedly, such ectodomains have novel biological functions in regulating properties of brain circuits. They aim to understand the biological functions of the synaptic sheddome and to develop new therapeutics and biomarkers.
Small GTPases, such as Rac1 and Ras, and their direct upstream regulators, GEFs and GAPs, control synapse development, maturation and plasticity. Genes encoding proteins in this pathway are highly enriched in mutations in intellectual disability, autism, epilepsy, schizophrenia and bipolar disease. Pharmacological targeting of these pathways could reverse synaptic deficits in these and other disorders.
Luis Rosas-Vidal, MD, PhD
Rosas-Vidal's research focuses on the neural circuit regulation of fear and anxiety and their interactions with stress.
Rosas-Vidal is currently working on two distinct projects: 1. understanding how decreases in the endocannabinoid 2-AG lead to increased fear generalization to novel stimuli and how neurons in the prelimbic prefrontal cortex regulate this process and 2. basomedial amygdala to BNST circuit regulating fear and anxiety states, and how these are modified following stress.
Faculty Page: https://www.nm.org/doctors/1851745269
Stewart Shankman, PhD
Shankman's research focuses on the relation between depression and anxiety disorders.
Shankman's research focuses on the relation between depression and anxiety disorders, with an emphasis on neurobehavioral processes that are common, versus specific, between the two. Shankman is the principal investigator and co-investigator on multiple NIH-funded projects.