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The Nathan S. Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research

Neurochemistry

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The Center for Neurochemistry conducts both basic and clinical experiments to identify how the brain responds to drug addiction and mental illness. Our primary focus is on the effects of alcohol, nicotine, and opiates.

Scope of Research

Drug addiction and mental illness co-morbidity occurs with high prevalence. This indicates either a shared neurobiological basis for both, or an interaction of effects at some level. Some studies in the US have reported that more than 50% of the people with any mental disorder also suffer from substance dependence compared to 6% of the general population; and the odds of exhibiting substance dependence are 4.5 times higher for people with any mental disorder than for people without mental disorder (Source: WHO). Research initiated at our Center on the origins of both mental illnesses and substance dependence helps to shed light on treatment and prevention strategies for both.

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Areas of Study

Developmental exposure to drugs causes long-lasting neurobehavioral deficits in learning, memory, and mood. For example, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is a primary cause of intellectual disability. We are examining how fetal alcohol exposure induces long-term modification of GABAergic interneuron structure and function, and how and which ‘neuroprotectants’ can be delivered at the early alcohol exposure. The developmental effects of alcohol, and structural differences between alcohol-preferring and -avoiding mice strains, are studied using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

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With our understanding of brain receptor function, the Center is also studying potential biomarkers for changes in the brain. We are examining blood lymphocytes for potential gene regulation of receptor function in psychiatric illness and in drug exposure (e.g., cigarette smoking).

For understanding psychiatric illnesses, the Center has collaborated in developing animal models for diseases (e.g., schizophrenia), which are utilized to evaluate receptor function, and to test novel drugs for potential treatment. The Center is equipped with a number of behavioral activity monitors and instruments to assay brain function.

History

The New York State Research Institute for Neurochemistry and Addiction was founded in the mid-1960s, as an independent institute created by the NYS Department of Mental Health. Its focus was to study the function not only of basic mechanisms of brain biology, but to understand the effects of drugs of addiction on these processes. The Institute was originally located on Wards Island (adjacent to Manhattan Psychiatric Center), and was incorporated into and relocated at NKI in 1990.

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Over the years, the Center for Neurochemistry has played a pioneering role in the study of brain metabolism, focusing on two areas: 1) the metabolism of proteins in the brain, examining protein turnover rates through brain development, and the processes in brain protein breakdown; and 2) the blood brain barrier, especially the cerebral transport of amino acids.