Assistant Professor, Department of Basic Medical Sciences
University of Arizona, College of Medicine, Phoenix
Postdoctoral Fellowship (Molecular Neuroscience and Psychiatric Genetics); Washington University School of Medicine; 2001-2004
Internship and Residency in Psychiatry; Columbia University and The New York State Psychiatric Institute; 2001
Ph.D. and M.D.; University of Pennsylvania; 1997
Psychiatric illnesses are caused by both genetic and environmental factors. However, almost nothing is known about how these factors interact to give rise to the biological abnormalities that underlie the symptoms of major mental illnesses like schizophrenia. The goal of my research is to elucidate the mechanism by which genes and environment interact to cause psychiatric disorders.
Current Research Update: “My laboratory studies the function of a family of genes that are activate in the brain in response to events in the environment, such as stress, and play a critical role in memory formation. We have hypothesized that the critical roles of these genes, which translate events in the outside world into changes in the function of neurons in the brain, make them ideally suited to influence both the genetic and environmental risk factors for severe mental illnesses like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.”
How IMHR Helped Facilitate This Work: “Shortly after starting my independent research program as an Assistant Professor and the newly opened University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix, I received an IMHR grant. This grant allowed me to pursue a very exciting hypothesis. The work I had done as a post-doctoral fellow suggested that numerous proteins that were activated in response to neuronal depolarization formed a signaling cascade that was essential for memory formation and a long-term change in the activity of the neurons. We noted that several of the genes that encoded these proteins were associated with risk to develop schizophrenia. This led me to hypothesize that the next gene in this biological pathway should also be associated with schizophrenia risk. With the IMHR funding, we were able to identify that, indeed, a variation in this gene, called “ARC” (activity associated cytoskeleton-associated protein), was associated with schizophrenia in two separate populations. This was very exciting because, shortly before we published our results, the first large-scale genome-wide association studies in schizophrenia patients were published. Two of these studies reported that one of the key features of the schizophrenia-associated genes they identified was that they encoded proteins that bind to ARC. Studies in my laboratory have continued to identify genes in this biological pathway. Over and over, we are finding that the genes we are identifying have a link to schizophrenia, or other psychiatric illnesses, such as bipolar disorder. The support of the IMHR allowed us to validate our hypothesis, and helped us define what we believe is a critical pathway that links environmental and genetic contributions to these severe mental illnesses.”