University of Pittsburgh
November 25, 2002

Pitt Neuroscientist Receives $1.6 million NIH Grant To Study Disrupted Brain Development Investigation could lead to new treatments for schizophrenia

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November 26, 2002

PITTSBURGH—Scientists suspect that schizophrenia has its roots in early fetal brain development, and a University of Pittsburgh researcher will explore that theory using a $1.6 million grant from the National Institute of Mental Health, one of the National Institutes of Health.

"Even though the psychosis is not expressed until adulthood, there is evidence that schizophrenia is a disorder whose pathology begins early in development. There is further evidence that developmental problems during the second trimester of humans can increase the incidence of schizophrenic births," says Anthony Grace, a professor of neuroscience and psychiatry at Pitt and the study's primary investigator.

Grace will use animal studies to examine the way the section of the brain called the nucleus accumbens, which regulates motivation and reward, interacts with other parts of the brain.

"The nucleus accumbens is a region in the brain where antipsychotic drugs are thought to act and which likely has a major role in the development of schizophrenia," says Grace. "In this study, I will be examining the basic physiology of how higher level systems interact with the accumbens through changes in the brain's chemistry, especially the dopamine system, and the brain's circuitry."

While the emphasis for Grace's five-year study will be on schizophrenia, he says that the biological principles he will be examining are likely to be applicable to other psychiatric disorders.