Molecular and Clinical NeurobiologyHead: Prof. Dr. D. Rujescu
The genetic and neurobiological causes of mental illnesses are becoming an increasingly important focus of biological-psychiatric research. The importance of knowledge about such factors can hardly be overestimated: it offers a basis for a timely diagnosis and effective prevention as well as for an accurate prediction of the further course of the disorder.
The main focus of research in the Section on Molecular and Clinical Neurobiology is on the genetics and neurobiology of psychiatric disorders and intermediate phenotypes, with a special focus on schizophrenia, cognition, suicidal behaviour (as the main complication in many psychiatric disorders) and dementias.
We follow a multimodal research approach with the aim to combine molecular (genome-wide association studies, functional genomics, proteomics, metabolomics), cellular and behavioural (intermediate neuropsychological phenotypes, clinical characterisation) approaches to do justice to these complex disorders. For this purpose we recruit and perform detailed characterisation of large samples of patients and healthy volunteers (up to 4500 have been recruited so far).
In the field of schizophrenia research we also use animal models to identify relevant genes and to model aspects of the pathophysiology of the disorder. We use a pharmacological animal model based on NMDA antagonism and perform micro-array based gene expression studies to determine differentially expressed genes, which are subsequently tested for associations in human genetic studies.
A broad spectrum of neurobiological methods, e.g. on interneuron populations, oxidative stress and glutamatergic neurotransmission, is also employed to further validate the model.
In addition, cell biological approaches are pursued by using primary neuronal cultures and adult stem cells to clarify glutamatergic and serotonergic mechanisms in neuropsychiatric disorders.
The final step is a system-biological, multimodal integration of these data that employs interdisciplinary resources. This is also reflected in the multidisciplinary composition of the section, which includes postdoctoral and technical staff with many years of experience in molecular genetic studies and molecular biological studies as well as in studies in clinical and experimental psychology.