TL1 Trainee Awarded NIH Award

Andrea Liatis was recently awarded a R36 Mental Health Dissertation Research Grant to Increase Diversity by the NIH National Institute of Mental Health for two years at $35,000 per year. The award will fund her dissertation research project entitled, The Role of the Sympathetic Nervous System in Major Depression and Inflammation.

This proposal will provide insights into possible mechanisms linking inflammation to major depression and will help identify molecular targets related to the sympathetic nervous system contributions to the relationship among stress, depression, and disease. Activation of the innate immune system may play a role in major depression and may contribute to the detrimental impact of major depression on the development and outcome of medical illnesses including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer. Stress, a well-known precipitant of major depression, also activates the innate immune system, and an exaggerated inflammatory response to stress is seen in patients with major depression and early life stress. Studies have shown that stress-induced increases in inflammatory responses are mediated in part through the release of catecholamines and stimulation of alpha-I adrenergic receptor subtypes. In contrast, beta-adrenergic receptor subtypes have been shown to inhibit inflammatory responses. Andrea's research will investigate the role of alpha-1 and beta-2 adrenergic receptor subtypes in increased inflammation in patients with major depression and varying levels of early life stress.

Her preliminary data indicates that inflammatory stimuli upregulate mRNA expression of the beta-2 receptor in a human monocytic cell line, THP-1. The goal is to investigate the mechanisms of increased inflammation in major depression with an emphasis on the role of the sympathetic nervous system, catecholamines, and their receptors. The long-term objectives are to further explain the mechanisms that contribute to increased inflammation in major depression and early life stress. The information gained may reveal specific receptor subtypes and signaling pathways that may contribute to an increased sensitivity to catecholamine-induced inflammation in depressed patients, thus revealing novel targets for therapeutic intervention.

Andrea was among the first trainees in the PhD/MSCR dual degree program funded by the TL1 component of the Research Education, Training, & Career Development (RETCD) program of the ACTSI. "It is one of my career and research goals to bridge the gap between basic science and clinical research. My experience in the MSCR program has equipped me with all the necessary skills to accomplish this feat," said Andrea. She recently completed the requirements for the MSCR and is working on her PhD dissertation. Andrea received her BS in Biology from GA Tech, is currently working towards her PhD from Emory University's Graduate Division of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, Neuroscience, and is currently being mentored by Dr. Andrew Miller.