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Molecular Psychiatry: Signaling, Cytoskeletal Dynamics, and Cell Adhesion

Much psychiatric research has focused on neurotransmitters and their receptor proteins that transfer electrochemical information between brain cells (neurons) at specialized contacts (synapses). But just like every other cell in your body, neurons also depend on many other molecules (proteins encoded by genes) to function properly. These proteins contribute to neuron development during childhood and to synapse structure and function in the adult. Some participate in crucial biochemical communication (signaling) between neurons during development and beyond. Others, involved in controlling the interior scaffold of the cell and its connections to the surface (cytoskeletal dynamics and adhesion), allow neurons to migrate to their final destinations, determine their shape, and contribute to the structural integrity and flexibility of synapses. All of these fundamental physical properties can affect the product of your brain: your psyche (mind, self...). This includes your perceptions (both inner and outer), emotions, thoughts, as well as your ability to learn (incorporate new information) and to remember.

We are investigating intracellular proteins that regulate signaling, cytoskeletal dynamics, and adhesion in neurons and other cell types. We explore how these proteins operate in the developing embryo, in the maturing animal, and in the adult brain. Our experiments in the embryo are medically relevant to birth defects, those in mature tissues are relevant to cancer, and those in the brain are relevant to mental illness. We have found that each experimental approach is complementary to the others. For example, our discoveries in the embryo inform our investigations in the brain and vice-versa.

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Wnt Signaling Pathways

Intracellular Scaffold Proteins

 

 
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