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NIMH Seeks Epigenomic Basis of Mental Disorders

By a GenomeWeb staff reporter

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The National Institute of Mental Health has launched a new grant program to support studies into how epigenetic events factor into brain development and vulnerability to mental disorders.

The $5 million grant program will support up to 10 researchers this year seeking to characterize how epigenetic events affect neurodevelopmental processes that can cause mental illnesses later on, or studies that aim to identify epigenome-wide marks that are linked to environmental influences and vulnerability to mental disorders.

NIMH hopes that the research will yield better understanding of how epigenetic mechanisms turn early experiences in to long-term neural changes and how they may impact risk and resilience in relation to mental disorders. Such research may eventually lead to the development of in vivo imaging or analysis of epigenetic changes in the brain.

The grant program is focused on preclinical and translational models in animals, but it also will fund basic, translational, and clinical research in humans if they increase knowledge about plasticity in neurodevelopment.

The studies likely will center on characterization of epigenomics profiles, but they also may include follow-up epigenetic analyses on the significance of target gene regions or areas identified through epigenome-wide mapping activities.

The studies could include ways to identify epigenomics components that may affect the transcriptional potential of a cell, research into the consequences of these epigenetic modifications on cell differentiation and circuit formation, and the studies of the contribution of epigenetic mechanisms to the etiology, progression, or severity of mental disorders.

The aim of this phase of the program is to apply global mapping techniques across the genome, and any proposals to focus on a single locus or a defined set of loci should be considered follow-up and secondary to the initial effort of global mapping.

Researchers could use these grants to: study epigenomic marks in the brain and in other tissues; to examine the validity of peripheral epigenomic changes; to identify epigenetic marks that could be used as diagnostic tools for the molecular basis of disorders; to manipulate epigenetic profiles to alter developmental trajectories of cognitive or affective functions; compare epigenome-wide profiles in association with the expression of symptoms; identify genes that are susceptible to epigenetic modifications by experience across neurodevelopment; and to perform a range of other studies that use epigenomics to shed light on mental disorders.

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