Our brain is a fascinating organ of unparalleled complexity. This complexity arises on one hand from the myriads of connections that each of 100 billion neurons make with other neurons and, on the other hand, from the multitude of interactions between neurons and other brains cells, in particular glial and immune cells. Research in our Institute is focused on investigating systems that modulate neuronal signaling and the interactions between neuronal and non-neuronal cells. These include the endocannabinoid and the opioid system as well as signaling via D-serine.
Opioid peptides are released from synaptic terminals together with a primary neurotransmitter. While the primary neurotransmitter affects postsynaptic potentials through the activation of ion channel receptors, opioid peptides modulate synaptic transmission through activation of postsynaptic G-protein-coupled opioid receptors. Endocannabinoids are retrograde lipid signaling molecules, which act on presynaptic cannabinoid CB receptors upon release from the postsynaptic compartment. D-serine is an allostatic activator of glutamatergic NMDA receptors. It is produced through isomerization of L-serine by serine racemase in astrocytes and neurons.
We study the involvement of these neuromodulators in normal brain physiology and in pathological conditions that are relevant to psychiatric disorders using genetic mouse models developed in our lab. Many of the molecular and cellular processes involved in pathophysiological processes of distinct brain disorders are overlapping, thus pointing to commonalities in their etiology and pathomechanisms. It is therefore not surprising that our genetic animal models with changes in neuromodulator functions sometimes show a broad spectrum of behavioral phenotypes that are relevant to syndromes associated with different psychiatric disorders.