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Five from MIT receive NARSAD awards; Graybiel is Distinguished Investigator

Ann M. Graybiel
Ann M. Graybiel

Ann M. Graybiel, the Walter A. Rosenblith Professor of Neuroscience, has been selected by NARSAD: The Mental Health Research Association to receive its Distinguished Investigator Award. Graybiel is one of 23 scientists to receive the award, which is given to investigators who have established themselves as leaders in their fields.

Graybiel will use her one-year, $100,000 grant to advance her study of a part of the brain that is implicated in obsessive-compulsive disorder and addiction. She and her colleagues have recently identified two new gene encoding factors that may have relevance to the function of a system in the forebrain called the cortico-basal ganglia loops. These anatomical connections are critical for behavior and are believed to be of enormous importance in processes ranging from some forms of compulsive behavior to reward behaviors and potentially to forms of mental illness, particularly the repetitive thoughts seen in obsessive disorder, addictive disorders, and schizophrenia.

NARSAD also awarded 2007 Young Investigator Awards to three scientists at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and a postdoc at the MIT Picower Center for Learning and Memory.

Jinbo Fan, Daniel Fass, Stephen Haggarty and Yingwei Mao will each receive $60,000 from NARSAD over the next two years to advance specific research projects.

Fan, who studies the genetics of bipolar disorder, will test mitochondrial DNA variations and their association in bipolar disorder to determine their potential role of influence and susceptibility in the illness.

Fass will study a molecule that neurons use to read their DNA--the transcription factor CREB. He hopes to identify drugs that improve the efficiency of CREB's ability to read the DNA blueprint in neurons.

Haggarty will explore epigenetic mechanisms--nongenetic factors that affect gene expression--in the development of neuropsychiatric disorders. He hopes to achieve better understanding of how antidepressants, mood stabilizers and antipsychotic drugs modulate neuronal signaling and neural circuitry and to identify novel molecular mechanisms for therapeutic intervention.

Mao, of the Picower Center for Learning and Memory, will study how the schizophrenia risk gene DISC1 participates in Wnt signaling and regulates neural progenitor proliferation during embryogenesis and adulthood, and how defects in progenitor cell proliferation lead to psychiatric disorders.

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