Conte Center Grant Expands Studies of Brain Mechanisms Behind Depression and Anxiety
July 12, 2021
With a $15,973,571, five-year grant from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), investigators from McLean Hospital and four other institutions will further their studies into the brain mechanisms behind depression and anxiety.
Under the title “Novel Treatment Targets for Affective Disorders Through Cross-Species Investigation of Approach/Avoidance Decision Making,” this Silvio O. Conte Centers for Translational Mental Health Research grant involves laboratories from McLean, Massachusetts General Hospital, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Washington, and Brown University.
According to Diego A. Pizzagalli, PhD, director of the McLean Center for Depression, Anxiety and Stress Research and the McLean Imaging Center, the grant will increase understanding of the brain circuitry associated with anxiety and depression. The research may also lead to new medications that are more effective.
Center collaborators include Pizzagalli, Darin Dougherty, MD, Massachusetts General Hospital, Ann Graybiel, PhD, MIT, Michael Bruchas, PhD, University of Washington, and Michael Frank, PhD, Brown University.
Pizzagalli, who will serve as center director, said “available treatments for anxiety and depression are not very effective for a substantial portion of patients, and there’s been a paucity of innovation in drugs that treat these conditions. Although safer, the antidepressants currently used act on the same receptors in the brain as the ones discovered in the 1950s. There is clear evidence that we need something different and new.”
Pizzagalli explained that most current drugs for anxiety and depression target either serotonin or dopamine. But studies into other neurochemical pathways in the brain, such as nociceptin receptors, point to the possibility for improved treatment.
“Across species, nociceptin receptors have been found to inhibit serotonin and dopamine and to play a key role in stress regulation, learning, pain processing, and responsiveness to rewards,” he stated.
“Our initial studies have shown that people with depression who died by suicide had increased levels of nociceptin in the core regions of the brain reward system. There is also some evidence these receptors have an impact on stress responses and anhedonia.”