Check out our research profile, which outlines our approach and outlines some of our current work.
Some of our current research projects include:
- Prenatal immune activation as a model for schizophrenia
Studies in patients has shown that many patients that developed schizophrenia in adulthood have, during pregnancy be exposed to a viral or bacterial infection. In line with this, we and others have shown that a prenatal immune activation in rats also leads to schizophrenia-like cognitive deficits. More importantly, we have shown that these deficits occur only when the immune activation occurs early in pregnancy. In the current follow up project, we will focus predominantly on how this immune activation affects the development of the brain. Specifically, we focus on changes in DNA methylation, an epigenetic process that strongly affects gene expression. This is a collaborative project with Dr. Melanie McConnell from thre School of Biological Sciences at VUW.
- The serotonin transporter and addiction
Research in humans have shown that a genetic reduction in the serotonin transporter (SERT) enhances the risk of becoming addicted to alcohol and/or drugs. using a specially developed genetic rat model, we are currently investigating whether a genetic reduction in the SERT alteres the sensitivity ot drugs of abuse, such as methamphetamine and alcohol.
- Towards a new rat model for autism spectrum disorder
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a pervasive developmental disorder characterised by deficits in social behaviour and communication, and an increase in repetitive and stereotyped behaviour. Epidemiological studies have shown that prenatal exposure to valproate (an antiepileptic drug and mood stabilizer) leads to a 4 – 5 fold higher risk of developing ASD. Although animal studies have found a similar effect, these studies usually use only a single injection of valproate during pregnancy, which is very different from the clinical situation. Therefore, in this project we will investigate if daily, low doses of valproate ot pregnant female rats induces ASD-like characteristics in the offspring.
Is too much of a good thing bad for you?
In adulthood, treatments that increase the extracellular concentrations of the neurotransmitter serotonin improve mood and reduce anxiety. However, humans (and rats) that have high levels of serotonin during development actually have an increase risk of developing depression or anxiety disorders. In the present project we aim to investigate whether the brain of rats with high levels of serotonin are different and whether mothers with high levels of serotonin show different behaviour toward their pups.
The serotonin transporter and depression
Much clinical research has linked depression with serotonin and several studies have linked a genetic reduction in the serotonin transporter to enhanced vulnerability to depression. However, clinical and epidemiological studies are notoriously difficult to replicate. While studies in animals are much better, it has proven very difficult to investigate depression-like symptoms in rats. In the present project we aim to develop several new tests, including behavioural and physiological tests to investigate whether rats with a genetic reduction in the serotonin transporter show more depressive-like behaviours.