Brain and Behavior Research Foundation – Ask an Expert

Q. In your work with the Pritzker Neuropsychiatric Research Consortium, have you uncovered any new genes that you think might be related to mental illnesses besides major depression?

ANSWER BY: Huda Akil, Ph.D.

Yes, the Pritzker Consortium is interested in three severe psychiatric disorders—major depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. We hope to discover the genes involved in these illnesses by studying the genetic variations that are associated with these illnesses and by studying the brains of individuals with these disorders to discover genes and proteins that are altered either because of the original genetics or because of environmental and developmental factors that have converged to change the brain.

Read the full answer at Brain and Behavior Research Foundation »

Seeking the Gears of Our Inner Clock

Carl Zimmer
December 28, 2015

Throughout the day, a clock ticks inside our bodies. It rouses us in the morning and makes us sleepy at night. It raises and lowers our body temperature at the right times, and regulates the production of insulin and other hormones.

The body’s circadian clock even influences our thoughts and feelings. Psychologists have measured some of its effects on the brain by having people take cognitive tests at different times of day.

“Sleep and activity cycles are a very big part of psychiatric illnesses,” said Huda Akil, a neuroscientist at the University of Michigan.

Yet neuroscientists have struggled to understand exactly how the circadian clock affects our minds. After all, researchers can’t simply pop open a subject’s skull and monitor his brain cells over the course of each day.

A few years ago, Dr. Akil and her colleagues came up with an idea for the next best thing.

Read the full article at NYTimes.com »

The Six Most Interesting Psychology Papers of 2015

Maria Konnikova
December 26, 2015

“Fibroblast Growth Factor 9 Is a Novel Modulator of Negative Affect,” from PNAS

Depression is notoriously tough to handle pharmaceutically. We still don’t know how S.S.R.I.s work, for instance—or even if they work at all. This paper offers a previously untried target for treatment: FGF9, a neurotrophin (a type of protein) that appears to play a key role in regulating embryonic development and cell differentiation and seems also to be important in regulating our emotional state.

Read the full article at the New Yorker

A new factor in depression? Brain protein discovery could lead to better treatments

Study in humans & rats shows more physical changes in depressed brains

September 8, 2015

FGF9 Neurons
The green cells show where an injected virus was used to block production of FGF9 in rat brains.
Low. Down. Less than normal. That’s what the word depression means, and what people with depression often feel like. But sometimes, depression can mean too much of something – as new research shows.

The discovery, about a protein called fibroblast growth factor 9 or FGF9, goes against previous findings that depressed brains often have less of key components than non-depressed brains.

In this case, people with major depression had 32 percent more of FGF9 in a key part of their brain than people without the condition. In rats, raising FGF9 levels artificially led to depression-like behavior changes, and repeated social stress caused brain FGF9 levels to rise.

Taken together, the findings provide more evidence that depression is a physical illness. If FGF9 or its effects prove to be a good target for drugs, the finding could eventually help lead to better medications for the mental health condition that affects millions of Americans.

Read the full article at UofMHealth.org »
Read the publication abstract at PNAS »