The aims of this Translational Conte Center are (1) to enhance the basic molecular and neurobiological characterization of the role of the alpha7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor in the brain and its dysfunction in schizophrenia;(2) to use this biology to continue development of a new therapeutic strategy to improve the treatment of cognitive dysfunction and negative symptoms in persons who have schizophrenia (Project 1), and (3) to use emerging information about the developmental role of the receptor to initiate a perinatal intervention for pregnant women and their children to decrease the risk of schizophrenia (Project 2). The Center investigates the potential therapeutic effects of selective alpha 7 nicotinic agonists in animal models of neuronal dysfunction in schizophrenia and then in early human clinical trials in patients with schizophrenia. It examines CHRNA7, the gene for this receptor, to determine how its expression becomes aberrant in schizophrenia (Project 3) and in animal models where the gene is naturally or intentionally mutated (Project 4). It determines in humans and animal models how specific variants in the gene result in dysfunction in the development of inhibitory neuronal circuitry in the hippocampus and other forebrain regions. It then examines the effects of nicotinic agonists that can potentially alter these genetic effects on development. These agonists include selective alpha 7 nicotinic receptor agonists in animal models and nicotine itself in both humans and animal models because some pregnant women smoke cigarettes. Because the endogenous ligand during fetal brain development appears to be choline, the Center also examines the potential beneficial effects of choline supplementation on alpha 7 nicotinic receptor function and neuronal development in a clinical trial in pregnant women and their newborn infants and in related animal models. To support these investigations, the Center develops strategies to image inhibitory function hemodynamically and electrophysiologically, in both adults and infants, and it develops new animal models, including the transfer of human CHRNA7 into mice (Project 5) and models of developmental abnormalities induced by the immune response to infections (Project 6).

Public Health Relevance

New therapeutic strageties for schizophrenia are needed to improve cognitive dysfunction and negative symptoms and to prevent the development of psychosis. The Center investigates a nicotinic acetylcholine receptor as a new therapeutic target. Investigational results are used to design a new drug treatment for schizophrenia and a preventative nutrient intervention during early infant development, both of which activate this receptor.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Specialized Center (P50)
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Study Section
Special Emphasis Panel (ZMH1-ERB-F (01))
Program Officer
Zalcman, Steven J
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University of Colorado Denver
Schools of Medicine
United States
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Lester, Henry A; Lavis, Luke D; Dougherty, Dennis A (2015) Ketamine inside neurons? Am J Psychiatry 172:1064-6
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