Animal Models of Psychiatric Disorders

We are interested in the role of neuromodulators (endocannabinoids, opioids, D-serine) in psychiatric disorders. For this purpose we have generated a number of genetic animal models lacking of overexpressing the genes of interest. Using these animals we investigate how these modulators affect brain anatomy (e.g. morphological changes in specific brain structures), physiology and biochemistry (e.g. neurotransmitter imbalance or dysfunction), as well as animals behaviors.

Generally, the term “behavior” refers to the way in which an organism acts under specific conditions or in relation to specific circumstances. It represents the final integrated result of genetic, biochemical, physiological and neuronal processes. Behavioral phenotypes are often relevant for psychiatric disorders and may reflect specific aspects of human disease syndromes. These animals thus enable experimental research to investigate the etiology and pathology of psychiatric disorders and contribute to the development novel pharmacotherapies.

Psychiatric disorders have a strong heritability and, like most other common disorders, they are complex. This means that a combination of many common gene variants contribute most of the genetic risk load, while each gene has only a small effect.

In addition to the genetic risk load, environmental factors determine in complex disorders to a large extend the disease onset and severity. Importantly, we can create an environment for our genetic mouse models that mimic conditions causing psychiatric disorders in humans, e.g. exposure to chronic stress or drugs of abuse.

Our studies thus also address the question how a combination of genetic and environmental factors finally results in the development of psychiatric diseases like addiction, mood or stress-related disorders.