About the Division of Psychiatric Epigenomics
Many psychiatric and medical conditions are likely not to be solely rooted in faulty genetics, and exploration of the cellular and molecular pathology in human brain collected postmortem or animal models and cell culture system, will be important in order to deepen our insights into the underlying mechanisms of disease.
The mission of the Division of Psychiatric Epigenomics in the Department of Psychiatry and the Friedman Brain Institute is to explore epigenetic determinants of genome organization and function as it pertains to the healthy and diseased brain. We have three major areas of focus from which we expect that they will advance basic knowledge about psychiatric disorders and carry the potential to lead to improved treatment options for patients:
- Brain Epigenome Mapping Across the Lifespan
- Exploring Chromatin Regulators in Mouse Models of Psychiatric Disease
- Epigenetic Biomarkers
Brain Epigenome Mapping Across the Lifespan
Many of our brain cells stop dividing long before birth and then never again go through a cell division. To explore how these neurons (and other cells) maintain genome integrity and adapt gene expression and function according to the various periods of normal development and aging remains one of the most important endeavors in human and animal brain research. Genome-scale mapping of epigenetic markings including DNA methylation and histone modification is also a prerequisite to explore the vast portions of the human genome that are involved in gene regulation but without encoding protein, including a potential role in disease.
Exploring Chromatin Regulators in Mouse Models of Psychiatric Disease
Novel epigenetic therapies, such as histone deacetylase inhibitors, have already contributed to significant improvements treatment options in many areas of clinical medicine, including cancer and immune disorders. Because chromatin in neurons and other brain cells maintains dynamic regulation at all ages examined so far, brain disorders too are, in principle, amenable to chromatin-based therapies. Exploring these in mouse models of autism, depression and psychosis is one feasible strategy for such discovery-based approach.
In psychiatry, like in many other areas of medicine, there is an urgent need to find biomarkers that could inform about disease prognosis, treatment response and side effect profiles and other parameters that matter greatly to patients. Whether or not epigenetic biomarkers in peripheral tissues (including blood and skin cells) will provide useful information in the context of psychiatry disease is a largely unresolved question.