My work focuses on the cell biology of mental health, and investigates both molecular cell mechanisms that increase risk for psychiatric disorders and the mechanism of action of psychotropic drugs.
I investigate both neuronal and non-neuronal cell systems to establish the functions of genes identified as genetic risk factors for schizophrenia and bipolar mood disorder. My research group concentrates on the proteins that modulate nerve cell shape and movement; the regulation of synapses – the connections between nerve cells – and epigenetics – long term changes in the organization of DNA that alter how genes are controlled.
In an alternative strategy, we are investigating the effects of the mood stabilizers, lithium and valproic acid (VPA), on cell functions. VPA is a particularly interesting drug, as it has multiple uses. These include the treatment of epilepsy, migraine and neuropathic pain. We are trying to establish why this side drug crosses over into multiple conditions, and aim to improve therapy by discovering better drugs based on the VPA molecule.
A major activity of my group is to create better cell-based and biochemical assays for understanding mental health and testing new drugs.