Expanding DNA, abnormal brain development and genetic dispositions in behavioural conditions are investigated in disease states like Schizophrenia, Retts Syndrome, Huntington’s disease and addiction.
Chronic alcohol and drug use can lead to a cycle of addiction which has serious implications for our society and the families and friends of the drug affected person. Our Addiction group investigates how alcohol and drugs can change the brain’s structure, chemistry and function.
Genetic approaches combined with animal models of drug-seeking and relapse can help examine neural pathways implicated in drug seeking behaviour. The latter aspect is of critical importance as the defining feature of addiction is the chronic and relapsing nature of the disorder.
Many brain disorders, including schizophrenia, mental retardation and autism, involve abnormal development and function of the brain. In a condition like schizophrenia, the experience of loss of contact with reality for sufferers can be intolerable, and also devastating for family and friends.
The Neural Plasticity group is interested in the mechanisms whereby the genes underlying maturation of the brain in conditions like schizophrenia, Rett syndrome (autistic spectrum disorder) and Williams syndrome (another disorder of brain development) are regulated by interaction with the environment.
Huntington’s disease (HD) is an inherited single-gene abnormality that causes neurons in the brain to become dysfunctional and eventually die. The condition involves cognitive deficits (culminating in dementia), psychiatric symptoms (eg depression) and movement disorders (eg chorea). HD is one of the increasing numbers of fatal brain diseases known to be caused by expanding DNA (a ‘genetic stutter’) in the disease genes.
Our research into HD has shown for the first time that depression in HD can be modelled, and ameliorated by enhanced mental and physical activity. We have also identified key molecules involved in the psychiatric elements of the disorder. This will have implications not only for HD, but for depression in the wider community.