Brain & Behavior Research Foundation Names Winners of Klerman-Freedman Prizes for Exceptional Research

Annual Awards Recognize Exceptional Research by Foundation's NARSAD Young Investigators to Unlock Mysteries of Mental Illness

Jul 27, 2015, 09:00 ET from Brain & Behavior Research Foundation

NEW YORK, July 27, 2015 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Brain & Behavior Research Foundation today announced the winners of its annual Klerman and Freedman Prizes, recognizing exceptional clinical and basic research by scientists who have been supported by NARSAD Young Investigator Grants. The grants enable early career scientists to pursue innovative ideas in neurobiological and psychosocial research, garner pilot data and generate "proof" of concept for the early detection, treatment, prevention and cure of mental illnesses.

Six young scientists—winners of the Klerman and Freedman Prizes along with two honorable mentions in each category—were selected by the Foundation's Scientific Council, comprised of 150 leading experts across disciplines in brain and behavior research including two Nobel Prize winners, four former directors of the National Institute of Mental Health, four recipients of the National Medal of Science, 13 members of the National Academy of Sciences, 21 Chairs of Psychiatry and Neuroscience Departments at leading colleges and universities around the world, and 47 members of the Institute of Medicine.

The prizes are named for neuropsychiatry pioneers Gerald Klerman, M.D. and Richard Freedman, M.D. "The Klerman and Freedman prizes recognize exceptional work in clinical and basic science by young scientists whose work has been supported by a NARSAD Young Investigator Grant, which has a tremendous impact on the careers of young scientists," said Jeffrey Borenstein, M.D., the Foundation's President and CEO. "This early recognition of their work by the Foundation's Scientific Council is especially important since it is often the precursor for other awards and prizes. NARSAD Young Investigators receive an average of 11 to 19 times the original grant amount in subsequent funding."

The 2015 Kerman Prize for Exceptional Clinical Research was awarded to Alan Anticevic, PhD, an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Psychology at Yale University, where he also co-directs the Neurocognition, Neurocomputation, and Neurogenetics Division at the Yale School of Medicine. He is being honored for his work looking at cognitive function —brain processes associated with thought and their related behavior— in schizophrenia.

For his NARSAD grant project, Dr. Anticevic's team connected different levels of cognitive dysfunction associated with schizophrenia via mathematical models of the brain. They developed computational models that effectively predicted brain activity and behavioral performance reflecting cognitive errors made by patients. In particular, the team looked at the balance of excitatory connections in the brain, which promote communication between cells, with inhibitory connections that reduce communication between cells. They found that disrupting the balance between excitatory and inhibitory connections can lead to specific patterns of cognitive deficits.

The mathematical models used in this study may help track and predict the development of cognitive dysfunction among people with schizophrenia. Future studies will expand the models to examine larger networks in the brain associated with schizophrenia-related cognitive dysfunction. A better understanding of these networks will aid our ability to identify and treat schizophrenia in a neurobiologically-grounded way.

Dr. Anticevic hopes to continue shedding light on how the interactions between these different circuits are upset in cases of severe neuropsychiatric illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and substance abuse.

"Receiving the NARSAD Young Investigator Award was nothing short of transformative for our group, generating vital momentum for establishing a broader research program focused on computational psychiatry," says Dr. Anticevic. "It allowed our lab to pursue a high-risk/high-reward question that provided the basis to create an innovative yet neurobiologically-grounded computational and experimental platform designed to characterize cognitive deficits in schizophrenia."

The 2015 Freedman Prize for Exceptional Basic Research was awarded to Michael M. Halassa, M.D., Ph.D., Assistant Professor at the New York University Neuroscience Institute with appointments in Neuroscience and Physiology, Psychiatry and the Center for Neural Science. Dr. Halassa is being honored for his work examining the regulation of sensory information in the brain, which has possible implications for treating disorders such as schizophrenia, autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), all of which involve disruptions to the flow of sensory information both to and within the brain.

Dr. Halassa and colleagues investigated the role of the thalamus—believed to be a gatekeeper in the relay of sensory information to the brain's cortex for fine-tuned processing. Researchers believe that sensory attention may be directed by the thalamic reticular nucleus (TRN), a group of neurons that inhibit communication within the brain and can therefore increase attention toward sensory input by reducing their own inhibitory activity.  

To understand TRN activity, Dr. Halassa's team recorded TRN neuron firing in mice during sleep as well as a visual attention task. They found that TRN neurons that communicated with visual processing regions of the brain reduced their activity during the visual task, but increased their activity during sleep. The team also found uniquely decreased activity during sleep among TRN neurons that help promote memory consolidation and neutral activity levels for these same neurons during the visual attention task. These findings indicate that TRN neurons help regulate the flow of attention in task-specific ways. Disruptions to the activity of TRN neurons may contribute to disorders where the flow of attention is not properly regulated.

"The NARSAD Young Investigator Award came at a critical time in my career and allowed me to take risks that have continued to generate tremendous returns," says Dr. Halassa.  "Rather than going after the 'next obvious question,' I was able to develop the necessary tools for asking how thalamic inhibition fundamentally worked. These tools are now revealing how thalamic inhibitory circuits can go awry in neurodevelopmental disorders and how targeting thalamic circuits can provide unique therapeutic benefits."

The foundation also awarded honorable mentions for both the Klerman and Freedman Prizes.

Klerman Prize honorable mentions were awarded to Chadi G. Abdallah, M.D., an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Yale University and Director of Neuroimaging and Clinical Trials at the Clinical Neuroscience Division, the National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, and Carrie J. McAdams, M.D., Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, University of Texas (UT) Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.

Dr. Abdallah is being honored for his NARSAD grant work looking at the effects of ketamine on the brain, which has been found to produce rapid and profound antidepressant effects, especially for individuals with depression that resists typical treatments such as psychotherapy and common SSRI-class antidepressants.

Dr. McAdams is being honored for her work examining brain activity related to social behavior in anorexia nervosa in adolescents, a continuation of her previous work which found brain activity during social tasks differed in adults recovering from anorexia nervosa compared to healthy adult women.

Freedman Prize honorable mentions were awarded to Kristen J. Brennard, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, Department of Psychiatry and Neuroscience at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and Nandakumar Narayanan, M.D., Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Neurology, University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine.

Dr. Brennand is being honored for her work pinpointing irregularities in brain cells associated with schizophrenia. Dr. Brennand hopes the findings of her study will help researchers identify the genetic basis of schizophrenia.

Dr. Narayanan is being honored for his studies of the brain circuits that underpin our thought processes. These circuits are dysfunctional in mental illness as well as neurodegenerative disease, giving rise to a wide range of cognitive deficits. Dr. Narayanan works to understand where and how these circuits go wrong in order to find new targets for the treatment of cognitive symptoms in neurological disorders.

For more detailed information on the Klerman and Freedman prize winners and their research, visit https://bbrfoundation.org/klerman-freedman-prizes.

About the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation:

The Brain & Behavior Research Foundation is committed to alleviating the suffering of mental illness by awarding grants that will lead to advances and breakthroughs in scientific research. The Foundation funds the most innovative ideas in neuroscience and psychiatry to better understand the causes and develop new ways to treat brain and behavior disorders. These disorders include depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety, borderline personality disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. Since 1987, the Foundation has awarded more than $328 million to fund more than 4,800 grants to more than 3,800 leading scientists around the world. This has led to over $3 billion in additional funding for these scientists. The Foundation is also dedicated to educating the public about mental health and the importance of research including the impact that new discoveries have on improving the lives of those with mental illness, which will ultimately enable people to live full, happy and productive lives. For more information, visit www.bbrfoundation.org.

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SOURCE Brain & Behavior Research Foundation



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