AANS Neurosurgeon | Volume 26, Number 4, 2017

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Research Provides Clues to Treat Depression, Autism and Other Neuropsychiatric Disorders

Alterations in a naturally occurring chemical in the brain called serotonin have been linked to a number of neuropsychiatric disorders including depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder as well as autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Randy Blakely, Ph.D., executive director of Florida Atlantic University’s Brain Institute and a professor of biomedical science in FAU’s Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine, and his team, have been studying this mood-regulating gene in the brain that carries signals across the synapse, or the gap between nerve cells. The supply of serotonin is tightly regulated by the serotonin transporter (SERT) and inappropriate shifts in SERT activity can have dramatic consequences.

Blakely first identified and cloned the SERT gene about 25 years ago, and recently received a $2.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to continue his research efforts to gain a better understanding of how SERT is regulated. Through this research, Blakely and the team pursue studies that can reveal critical insights into the mechanisms producing overactive SERT, changes that can drive diminished serotonin signaling during development and in adulthood. Blakely’s ultimate goal: to provide new ways of treating several widespread neuropsychiatric disorders associated with perturbed serotonin signaling.  

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