Adjunct Professor of Pharmacology
405 One Magnolia Circle Building
Adjunct Professor of Pharmacology, Vanderbilt University
Provost Professor, Zilkha Neurogenetic Institute, Kech School of Medicine of USC
Molecular and Developmental Basis of Neuropsychiatric Disorders:
Dr. Levitt studies the molecular and cellular mechanisms that control the development of the forebrain, and the causes for developmental and neuropsychiatric disorders such as autism, anxiety and schizophrenia. The brain begins to establish functional circuits before birth, but has its greatest growth period from birth until around three years of age. The brain then undergoes a substantial period of remodeling during childhood and adolescence. The laboratory is comprised of a group of highly collaborative researchers who investigate the genetic basis for the establishment of forebrain circuits that regulate mood, emotion, stress and complex higher functions. The laboratory also studies the impact of experience and environmental factors, such as social interactions or exposure to drugs of abuse, which may alter the formation and functioning of these systems. Mammalian model systems are used to probe experimentally these issues. Genes implicated in neurodevelopment are studied in human neuropsychiatric and developmental disorders. The goal of combining animal model and human genetic research is to identify mutations and polymorphisms that may alter function of genes sufficiently to increase the risk for expressing a particular disorder.
The laboratory applies a variety of tools in the research projects. For example, microarrays, which contain information on the entire genome, are used to develop gene expression profiles that may be unique to specific neuropsychiatric disorders, genetically altered mice, or animals exposed prenatally to drugs such as cocaine. Genetically engineered mice are created by the laboratory to express mutations of specific genes that may be involved in emotion and mood disorders. By using sophisticated in utero surgical methods, genes are introduced into specific developing brain regions to disrupt normal patterns of gene expression. Analyses of animal models are carried out using sophisticated microscope imaging methods, virus-based neural circuitry tracing, and biochemical, molecular and murine behavioral assays.
One of a series of scientific presentations given by researchers at the Marino Autism Research Scientific Symposium held at Vanderbilt University on April 22, 2008.
A presentation on legislation and policy by Pat Levitt, Vanderbilt Kennedy Center Director.