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Vanderbilt nets brain gene research center
Date:10/2/2007

Neuroscientists at Vanderbilt University are stepping into the national limelight with the establishment of a Silvio O. Conte Center for Neuroscience Research.

The new center, funded by a $10 million grant from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), will support interdisciplinary studies aimed at understanding the gene networks that control serotonin systems in the brain.

The neurotransmitter serotonin is central to brain biology: it participates in systems that control sleep, aggression, sexual drive, satiety, reward and mood. Serotonin has been implicated in a range of disorders including depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, schizophrenia and autism, and medications that affect serotonin signaling, such as the SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) antidepressants, are widely prescribed.

The Vanderbilt Conte Center investigators are focusing their efforts on the raphe nuclei, a cluster of serotonin neurons that reside in the brain stem and receive input from and send messages to neurons throughout the rest of the brain.

This is one of the most medically important cell groups in the nervous system, and the genes that control these neurons and their output are particularly key to our understanding of mental illness risk, said Randy Blakely, Ph.D., director of the new Conte Center.

Dr. Blakely has assembled the right team for the job of understanding how genetic variability affects neurotransmitter systems in the developing brain, said Thomas Insel, M.D., director of the NIMH. The new Center holds promise for hastening the day when discoveries in the lab will be translated into improved treatments for people with mental illnesses, from mood disorders to autism.

Conte Centers for Neuroscience Research are a centerpiece of NIMH funding, said Beth-Anne Sieber, Ph.D., chief of the Developmental Biology Program at NIMH. With these centers, NIMH is looking to the investigators to push their hypotheses forward, create new h
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Contact: Leigh MacMillan
leigh.macmillan@vanderbilt.edu
615-322-4747
Vanderbilt University Medical Center
Source:Eurekalert

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