Our Center will work to reveal how genes and genetic variants, particularly in immune molecules, shape aspects of brain development that may go awry in neuropsychiatric illness. We will do this by deploying scientific approaches from neuroscience, immunology, and genomics.
During childhood and adolescence, the brain rewires itself. It removes connections between neurons that are no longer useful and strengthens the remaining connections. It does this in part by utilizing components of the immune system – the same system that destroys pathogens such as bacteria and parasites. The immune system destroys the connections in a process called synaptic pruning, and like pruning a garden shrub, this process is normal and healthy.
However, pruning-gone-awry may contribute to brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and schizophrenia, either by removing too many connections, too few, or happening at inappropriate times. Because this pruning process is encoded in our DNA, it could mean that some of us are more likely to suffer from these mental disorders because our DNA contains instructions that are slightly wrong. We hope to someday discover medicines and therapies that prevent this process from going awry, thus saving people from brain disorders.
Our Conte Center is led by Beth Stevens, who is an expert in brain development. She leads a team that investigates how the brain’s wiring changes due to the immune system’s impact. Mike Carroll, who is an expert in the immune system, leads a team to investigate how the immune system carries out its function in the brain. And Steven McCarroll, who is an expert in human genetics and genomics, leads a team that investigates how genetics impacts both the brain and immune system. It is our goal to understand how genetics, immune molecules, and brain cells interact to affect the brain in health and in disease.
The Conte Center grant program honors Silvio O. Conte, a Massachusetts congressman and Republican who championed federal funding for medical and scientific research. Conte Centers across America use integrative, novel, and creative experimental approaches to investigate the causes of debilitating mental illnesses in the hopes of developing better treatments.