Research Laboratories

Primary Investigators

Division Head

John Wemmie Laboratory

John Wemmie, MD, PhD, professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Iowa, is interested in the role of brain pH and acid-sensing ion channels in brain function and behavior. This work has led to the discovery of critical roles for brain pH in synaptic plasticity, anxiety, and depression-related behaviors in mice. Current projects include investigating the synaptic mechanisms for acid-sensing ion channel action and also translating these discoveries to human behavior and brain function. For example, his laboratory is using non-invasive pH-sensitive magnetic resonance imaging to investigate the roles of brain pH in psychiatric illnesses such as panic disorder and bipolar affective disorder.

Professors

Andrew Pieper Laboratory 

The Pieper Laboratory focuses on the discovery of new treatment options for neuropsychiatric disease using pharamcologic approaches in animal models. This approach is characterized by the discovery of the P7C3-series of neuroprotective molecules, which offer mitchondrial protection in many preclinical models of neurodegeneration. The Pieper Laboratory is also investigating new treatment approaches for autism, anxiety, and obsessive compulsive disorder.  

Associate Professors

Gen Shinozaki Laboratory

The Shinozaki Laboratory aims to study the molecular influence of environmental factors such as trauma and stress on individual susceptibility to psychiatric conditions including posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and major depressive disorder (MDD) using an epigenetic/genetic approach.

Virginia Willour Laboratory

The primary goal of the Willour lab is to identify genetic and epigenetic risk factors for suicidal behavior. Family, twin, and adoption studies make clear that suicidal behavior has a substantial heritable component. While there is evidence that this heritability is accounted for in part by a liability to mood disorder, other evidence suggests an independent heritable facet that may cut across multiple psychiatric disorders. In an effort to better understand the biological basis of this behavior, we have conducted a genome-wide association study (GWAS) using attempted suicide as the phenotype, an effort that identified a promising association signal on 2p25 as well as candidate genes implicating the Wnt signaling pathway and excitatory neurotransmission. These findings have prompted us to launch a large-scale whole exome sequencing project, with the goal of identifying functional variants associated with suicidal behavior on 2p25 and throughout the genome. Environmental stressors, such as child abuse and early parental loss, are also known to play important roles in triggering suicidal behavior, likely through interaction with genetic vulnerability factors. With this in mind, we have begun an epigenetics project that involves assessing genome-wide methylation patterns in post-mortem brains of suicide completers and controls, with the goal of identifying differentially methylated candidate genes and regions associated with suicidal behavior.

 Assistant Professors  

Jacob Michaelson Laboratory

The Michaelson lab investigates how variation in the genome affects the development and function of the mind. Our experience in genome informatics and statistical learning enables us to develop predictive models of gene-phenotype relationships based on high-throughput biological data sets. These models serve a dual purpose: 1) they improve our diagnostic/prognostic capabilities and 2) they illuminate the biological mechanisms that underlie psychiatric conditions. We have a particular interest in conditions that manifest themselves in childhood, such as autism spectrum disorders (ASD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), specific language impairment (SLI), and developmental coordination disorder (DCD). These and other related conditions show striking comorbidity, and investigating their interrelationships will accelerate our understanding of their roots and potential treatments. 

Hanna Stevens Laboratory

The Psychiatry and Early Neurobiological Development Lab (PENDL) seeks to understand molecular and cellular aspects of early brain development and their relevance to psychiatric disorders. Hanna Stevens, the PI, is particularly interested in understanding how prenatal stress, environmental exposures and genes that play a role in early development have an impact on childhood behavior and act as risk factors for multiple psychiatric disorders. We use mostly basic science techniques including molecular, cellular, neuroanatomical and behavioral assessment of mouse models. We also examine risk factors during prenatal development in family cohorts. Our goal is to advance mental health diagnosis and treatment of disorders across the lifespan. We particularly focus on the high risk times of pregnancy and early development.

Krystal Parker Laboratory

Krystal Parker's long-term goal is to understand the cerebellar contribution to cognition. In pursuit of this goal, her lab works to combine neurophysiology, pharmacology and optogenetics in animals performing cognitive tasks to dissect cerebellar neural circuitry. They study the potential for cerebellar stimulation to rescue cognitive impairments in humans with schizophrenia using EEG but also in animals with pharmacologically induced or genetically modified phenotypes of schizophrenia, and autism. Their training in psychology, systems neurophysiology, and clinical psychiatry allows us to target the cerebellum for novel treatments of diseases of cognitive dysfunction.

Allan Andersen Laboratory

Allan Andersen, MD, assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Iowa, is a Child and Adolescent psychiatrist interested in understanding and modifying risk factors for immune-related disease in individuals with substance use disorders.  Current projects include a study tracking immunological changes in adolescents and young adults as they initiate tobacco and marijuana use.

Aislinn Williams Laboratory

The Williams Lab is interested in understanding the molecular and cellular mechanisms by which genetic risk factors contribute to psychiatric disease from a developmental perspective. Their current projects focus on voltage-gated calcium channel genes, which have been linked to the risk of developing bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, depression, and autism. They use induced pluripotent stem cells and transgenic mouse models to study how calcium channel gene SNPs alter neuronal development, neural circuit function, and affective behavior.

Thomas Nickl-Jockschat Laboratory

The Nickl-Jockschat lab aims to characterize brain structural changes in psychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia or autism spectrum disorders. As shown previously, these neuroanatomical anomalies do not appear to be mere epiphenomena, but closely related to the actual symptoms level of these disorders. Thus, a better understanding of these brain structural changes and their molecular and environmental causes might decisively help to develop not only a better understanding, but also new therapeutic approaches for the respective disorders.