James G. Blakemore Chair and Professor of Psychiatry; Professor of Pharmacology; Director, National Parkinson Foundation Center of Excellence
Our research interests focus on the dysfunction of the neurotransmitter dopamine in neuropsychiatric disorders. The two major branches of our efforts are basic science (preclinical) studies relating to schizophrenia and Parkinson's disease. Within these broad branches several different areas are covered. Studies on the mechanisms underlying both the therapeutic and side effects of antipsychotic drugs are a central focus. Studies on mechanisms by which neurons that use two neurotransmitters, dopamine and the peptide neurotensin, to coordinately regulate GABA-containing interneurons in the cortex are also ongoing, as are studies of the mechanisms of action of hallucinogens in activating widely the cortex. The other studies focus broadly on Parkinson's disease and the loss of dendritic spines, thorny spine-like protuberances on the processes of neurons that receive dopamine inputs. A decrease in dopamine in the striatum in the proximate cause of Parkinson's disease. Although pharmacological treatments aimed at replacing dopamine work well initially in PD, later debilitating side effects and a gradual loss of responsiveness to medications may occur; a decrease in dendritic spine density is seen in these cases. Our studies focus on the mechanisms of remodeling of spines and development of interventions to prevent or slow spine loss.