Renowned Neuropsychiatric Researcher Receives Distinguished Investigator Grant

Claes Wahlestedt, M.D., Ph.D., Leonard M. Miller professor and vice chair of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and Associate Dean for Therapeutic Innovation, is one of 15 researchers nationally to receive a Distinguished Investigator Grant from the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation.

The grants support innovative projects in diverse areas of neurobiological and behavioral research that seek new potential targets for understanding and treating psychiatric disorders that affect one in four people, including schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and substance abuse.

“This is a great honor and will help advance one of our most exciting projects,” said Wahlestedt.

With the $100,000, one-year grant, Wahlestedt will investigate the role of the microRNA miR-132 in the epigenetic dysregulation in schizophrenia and depression.

MicroRNAs are small molecules that regulate gene expression by epigenetic mechanisms that alter gene expression without changing the DNA. Wahlestedt’s earlier research, which identified a dysregulated miR-132 in human schizophrenic subjects, shows that the enzyme EZH1 is targeted by miR-132, and miR-132 and EZH1 are dysregulated in depression when complicated by early life abuse.

Based at the Center for Therapeutic Innovation, Wahlestedt, who also found that miR-132 targets at least 34 other epigenetic enzymes, will conduct mouse studies to further characterize them. He also will expand his focus from microRNAs to epigenetic enzymes as possible targets for pharmaceutical treatment of schizophrenia and depression.

“Claes Wahlestedt is one of the leading molecular neuroscientists focusing on elucidating the causes of the major psychiatric disorders, including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder,” said Charles B. Nemeroff, M.D., Ph.D., Leonard M. Miller Professor and Chair of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and Director of the Center on Aging. “His research promises to lead to the development of novel treatments for these devastating disorders. We are fortunate to have such a superstar in biological psychiatry and neuroscience in our department.”

Covering a broad spectrum of mental illnesses, recipients of the 2014 Distinguished Investigator Grants for basic research, new technologies, and next generation therapies were selected by the Foundation’s Scientific Council, which is composed of 146 brain and behavior research experts who volunteer their time to select the most promising research ideas to fund.

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