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RG Animal Models in Psychiatry


Registrar, Head of the Research Group

apl. Prof. Dr. Peter Gass

Phone: +49 621 1703-2931


Research and Administrative Building, 4th Floor, Room 412

Registrar, Working Group Manager (acting)

apl. Prof. Dr. Barbara Vollmayr

Phone: +49 621 1703-2912


Main Medical Building, 1st Floor, Room 118


The Research Group „Animal Models in Psychiatry“ develops and establishes models for psychiatric disorders with translational research approaches, especially for affective disorders such as depression and anxiety, but also for schizophrenia and cognitive disorders. For this purpose, we use mice and rats as model organisms. The implementation of the 3R principles (Reduce, Refine, Replace) is a pivotal basis for our work. This serves to align animal welfare with the requirements of the respective animal models. A key aspect of this endeavor is the scientific evaluation of stressors implemented in these animal models, which we analyze within the DFG-funded national Research Group FOR 2591 (www.severity-assessment.de). Our aim is to generate an evidence-based assessment of severity and identify the least stressful methods and approaches, to be able to substitute the more stressful ones consequentially. 

On the molecular level, our Research Group is primarily focused on studying the role of glucocorticoid receptors, the nerve growth factor BDNF, as well as the dopaminergic and the glutamatergic systems. The insights result in both, clinical studies or new treatment approaches. Observations made in the clinic, on the other hand, provide helpful input, for instance on the effectiveness of glutamatergic substances in depressive and schizophrenic disorders. These in turn, can lead to scientific theories about the respective pathomechanisms, which we are then able to investigate, e.g. with the help of knock-out mice.

Another focal point of our Research Group is the role of so-called “gene-environment interactions”, based on the discovery that usually a genetic predisposition or unfavorable environmental conditions (such as stress, past or current trauma) alone does not lead to a disorder. Rather it is the combination of both. This can be modelled in animals by using transgenic animals with mutations of a chosen risk gene and exposing them to defined stressors at specific points in their development. Furthermore, we use environmental housing conditions to modulate the results, in order to define the impact this factor has in the pathogenesis of the evaluated disorder.  
Through this, we were able to find, for example, that a genetic risk (as for instance a polymorphism of the glucocorticoid receptor or the dopamine transporter) predominantly leads to a psychiatric disorder only if the patient experienced a certain trauma during a particular period in their life. Therefore, our goal is to develop specific therapeutic models for these constellations, initially in animal models, and later on the clinical level.

Zentralinstitut für Seelische Gesundheit (ZI) - https://www.zi-mannheim.de