Molecular Psychiatry

Vince Magnotta and John Wemmie in the MRI Research Facility

Molecular Psychiatry: Mechanisms of Behavior and Disease

The Department of Psychiatry at the University of Iowa was one of the first in the country to emphasize the biological bases of mental illness, and was one of the earliest to adopt genetic and brain imaging approaches. Founded on this tradition, the department is capitalizing on recent advances in molecular neuroscience to expand research into the basic molecular mechanisms underpinning behavior and psychiatric disease.

The department created a Division of Molecular Psychiatry and hired several MD/PhD researchers who use state-of-the-art molecular, electrophysiological, pharmacological and behavioral approaches to study behavior in animal models, with the goal of translating discoveries to humans and identifying new treatments.

These physician scientists are located together on the first floor of the Pappajohn Building for Biomedical Discovery (PBDB). Together, this team is investigating the molecular and behavioral consequences of anxiety, depression, stress, eating disorders, disorders of childhood and drug addiction. They are studying novel mechanisms brain development, synaptic transmission and plasticity. And, they are developing and testing new compounds for potential therapies for psychiatric and neurodegenerative diseases.

These faculty members work closely with other physicians in the Carver College of Medicine and also with other researchers in the neuroscience community at the University of Iowa. As both psychiatrists and molecular neuroscientists, this group is uniquely positioned to investigate the causes of psychiatric disease, and to help other researchers apply their knowledge of molecules, cells and circuits to questions relevant to the causes and treatment of mental illness.

DNAMolecular Psychiatry: Genetics

An area of strength at the University of Iowa is psychiatric genetics, and it has been so since the late 1960s.

The Carver College of Medicine Department of Psychiatry investigators have won three Lifetime Achievement Awards from the International Society for Psychiatric Genetics since they were initiated in 1993. The current team includes MD, PhD and MD/PhD researchers who are (largely) administratively housed in the Molecular Psychiatry Division of the Department of Psychiatry.

Using state-of-the-art approaches and techniques, our faculty investigators in psychiatric genetics lead research programs aimed at discovering the genes and the genetic variations that underlie psychiatric disorders. The group works with departmental neuroscience colleagues to examine how potential disease genes manifest in disordered neurobiology. They work with the Iowa Institute of Human Genetics to share expertise and resources. They also collaborate with geneticists and neuroscientists across the Carver College of Medicine departments of pediatrics and ophthalmology, and across other colleges, including engineering and liberal arts and sciences.