Projects and Collaborators

PIMACS ( Perinatal Infant Mother Attachment Cortisol Study ) Project
The purpose of this study is to better understand the role of maternal risk for depression on infant stress hormone levels early in life, and the possibility of long-term effects if the hormone levels are different from that which is seen in infants of mothers who are not at risk for depression. Our ultimate goal is to identify pregnant women at risk for depression and determine if these chemicals in the body may help target their high-risk infants for early prevention strategies that would prevent or lessen the risk of development of psychiatric illness.
Our study team includes many Co-Investigators from several disciplines including obstetricians, pediatricians, child psychologists, adult psychologists and psychiatrists, social workers and nurses. This study is supported by NIMH grant Depression Risk, Infant-Mother Attachment and Cortisol
For this project, please go to PIMACS website for more details.

Perinatal Experience and Children's Mental Health
Many aspects of affective illness, including depression, involve a disturbance in the limbic-cortical emotional circuitry. A persistent or inappropriate activation of the limbic-hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (LHPA) axis is observed in many of these conditions. The comprehensive goal of this Level I Network application, Prenatal and Perinatal Experience and Children's Mental Health, is to strengthen the conceptual and empirical linkages between: 1) rodent, sheep and non-human primate research on adverse early experiences and development of the LHPA axis, and 2) human research on the emotional and cognitive sequelae of early adversity experiences during the fetal, perinatal and/or early neonatal period. The proposed network will ultimately foster hypothesis driven research initiatives, and develop new strategies that will effectively test the impact of adverse fetal and neonatal experience on LHPA development, bridging clinical obstetrics and neonatology, epidemiology, developmental neuroanatomy and neurosciences with mental illness in children and adolescents. Twelve network members, spanning expertise from molecular to behavioral and epidemiological levels in animal models and human fetal and infant populations have been assembled, along with two consultants who will join the group for specified topics and meetings. Network members are: Charles R. Neal and Delia M. Vazquez (Co-PI's), K. Sunny Anand, Ronald G. Barr, Alice S. Carter, Christopher Coe, Michael K. Georgieff, Vivette Glover, Kate Keenan, Michael S. Kramer, Peter Nathanielsz and Pathik Wadhwa. The consultants are Megan Gunnar and Seymour Levine.

Molecular Elements, Neurocircuits and Mental Illness
The overall purpose of this Program Project application is to understand the molecular and neuronal mechanisms that lead to individual differences in emotional responsiveness, and to apply this understanding to uncovering the biological basis of vulnerability to major depressive disorder (MDD). The projects within this Program Project Grant focus on a particular set of known candidate systems-the stress system and the serotonergic and noradrenergic systems that closely interact with it. We also search for novel candidate genes using microarray technology and to begin to explore their relationship to differences in emotional reactivity. Project 3 which is directed by Delia Vazquez uses a developmental approach to uncover the unfolding of the behavioral differences in emotional responsiveness and their neuronal correlates in the rat. Projects 1, 2, 4 and 5 are highly complementary and synergistic (see Watson's web site). It is hoped that their completion will shed light on the molecular, neurobiological and environmental factors that lead to increased vulnerability to depression and affect the individual's response to the treatment of this illness.

Early Experience, Stress Neurobiology and Prevention Science Network
Numerous researchers have speculated that adverse early rearing environments in humans enhance vulnerability to behavior disorders, affective pathology, and drug abuse, in part, through disturbing the development of stress-sensitive neurobiological systems, including the LHPA system. However, the many differences between rodents, non-human primates, and human in the neuroanatomy and physiology of this system suggest that adequate translation of the early experience-stress research from animals to humans, and from the level of basic science to applied prevention, will require an iterative interdisciplinary approach where (1) results from research on human infants and children guides the refinement of models/theories based on the animal research, and (2) the animal research on neurobiological mechanisms guides the methods and issues addressed in the human research. This Network aims at exactly this and provides the venue for a “think tank” operation in which well known developmental investigators utilizing both animal and human models can push advances in this area of research. This project is supported by NIMH and is housed at the University of Minnesota where the PI, Megan Gunnar, orchestrates these operations.

Stress Response and Growth: Impact of Early Life Stress
The focus of this project is to understand the role of critical developmental periods which, when altered, lead to growth failure using the rat as an animal model. Our laboratory collaborates with Juan F. Lopez and Seymour Levine as we study the hypothalamus, hippocampus, and pituitary. These structures are thought to exert important neural and endocrine control upon the LHPA and the growth hormone (GH) axes. This project also explores psychopathology in families of children evaluated for short stature in a Pediatric Endocrine clinic. Most recently we have expanded this project with Audrey Seasholtz as we look into molecular mechanisms responsible for growth and HPA alterations. We also have initiated a new line of work that focuses in the Brain Serotonin System with Paresh Patel and Charles Neal. This project is supported by NICHD branch of NIH.

Developmental Origins of Endocrine Dysfunction
Overview : This new postdoctoral research training program in the Department of Pediatrics , Division of Endocrinology and Diabetes at the University of Michigan has two main goals: 1) to provide high quality research training in one of two major tracks, Basic Science or Clinical Investigation and Epidemiology to pediatricians and basic scientists demonstrating a career commitment to academic pediatric endocrinology and metabolism, and 2) to provide an interdisciplinary research environment for the successful training of young physician-scientist in the specific area of mechanisms playing a role in the impact of early life events on endocrine disorders in post-natal life. In order to provide outstanding mentorship for the trainees, the PETP will be actively supported by 12 established investigators from 9 different departments at the University of Michigan, all with extensive research and mentoring experience within their respective areas of expertise. Each trainee will be mentored by a clinical/basic dyad of mentors to provide strong footing on hypothesis-driven translational research, centering on developmental origin of endocrine diseases (see PETP Faculty).

Qualifications: Applicants must hold a Ph.D. in physiology, bioengineering, cell and molecular biology, or a related field from an accredited program. The position is funded by a recent training award from NIH-NIDDK. U.S. citizenship or permanent resident status is necessary due to training grant requirements. For further information visit our department's website and contact individual investigators based on your research interest. Please provide a CV, three letters of reference (or contact information), and a detailed cover letter describing research experience, interests, and short and long term career goals.

For more information, contact the Director or Associate Director of the Training Grant:

Delia M. Vazquez, M.D.
Professor and Director of Pediatric Endocrine Fellowship Program

Associate Director:
Vasantha Padmanabham, Ph.D.
Professor and Director of Pediatric Endocrine Research

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