Neuropeptide research in psychiatry
Our department focuses on the dissection of the mechanisms of neuropeptide action in the brain, from molecular – via anatomical – to the whole organism level. We employ viral, opto- and chemogenetical, electrophysiological and behavioral approaches to study the effects of various neuropeptides (primarily oxytocin, OT) within the distinct brain regions controlling stress and fear responses, maternal and social behavior.
In our prospective studies, we will follow two directions:
In the first direction, with the help of established technical tools, we will assess the endogenous activity of the OT system in animal models of autism spectrum disorders (ASD), including recently generated Shank 3 and Magel 2 mutant rats. In these rats, we will record and image the coherent oxytocin neuron activity and monitor the efficiency of axonal OT release and OTR signaling in socially revenant brain regions during actual social behavior. The ultimate goal of this direction is answering one of the key questions in the field: to what extent is the endogenous OT system altered in ASD patients?
The second direction will be devoted to searching for optimal ways to intensify endogenous OT signaling. Accordingly, we will test the effects of peripherally delivered peptides, such as melanocortin, cholecystokinin and other agents, which can efficiently stimulate the activity of OT neurons. In parallel, following our preliminary results on sensory modulation of OT neurons, we will study the sensory processing in animal ASD models and will test whether somatosensory stimulation itself can improve the social deficits via endogenous OT release.
Both directions will be of crucial importance for understanding the contribution of the OT system to the pathophysiology of psychiatric diseases, providing an essential background for their optimal treatment to compensate the putative deficiency of OT signaling and social impairment.
Zentralinstitut für Seelische Gesundheit (ZI) - https://www.zi-mannheim.de