Genetic and optogenetic dissection of the central stress response and stress-linked psychiatric disorders, by Alon Chen
Summary: The biological response to stress is concerned with the maintenance of homeostasis in the presence of real or perceived challenges. This process requires numerous adaptive responses, involving changes in the central nervous and neuroendocrine systems. When a situation is perceived as stressful, the brain activates many neuronal circuits, linking centers involved in sensory, motor, autonomic, neuroendocrine, cognitive, and emotional functions in order to adapt to the demand. However, the details of the pathways by which the brain translates stressful stimuli into the final, integrated biological response are not completely understood. Nevertheless, it is clear that dysregulation of these physiological responses to stress can have severe psychological and physiological consequences, and there is substantial evidence to suggest that inappropriate regulation, disproportional intensity, or chronic and/or irreversible activation of the stress response is linked to the etiology and pathophysiology of anxiety, depression and metabolic-related disorders. Understanding the neurobiology of stress by focusing on the specific genes and brain circuits, which are associated with, or altered by, the stress response, will provide important insights into the brain mechanisms by which stress affects psychological and physiological disorders. The long-term goal of our research is to elucidate the pathways by which stress is perceived, processed, and transduced into neuroendocrine and behavioral responses. We are using integrated molecular (genetics and epigenetics), biochemical, physiological and behavioral methods, with focus on the generation of mutant mice models as an in vivo tool, to study the roles of specific stress-linked genes and brain circuits in coordinating the neuroendocrine, autonomic and behavioral responses to stressful challenges.
Short Biography of Alon Chen
Alon Chen is a Full Professor and the current Head of the Department of Neurobiology, Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, Israel and Managing Director and Scientific Member at the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry, Munich, Germany. Prof. Chen also serves as the Head of the Max Planck Society – Weizmann Institute of Science Laboratory for Experimental Neuropsychiatry and Behavioral Neurogenetics and as an adjunct Professor at the Medical School of the Ludwig Maximilian University, Munich. Prof. Chen was recently elected as the next President of the Weizmann Institute of Science and will start his term on December 1st, 2019.
Born in Israel in 1970, Prof. Alon Chen received a BSc in Biological Studies, with distinction, from Ben-Gurion University in 1995, and a PhD from the Weizmann Institute of Science in 2001 (Direct PhD Program, with distinction). During his PhD studies, Prof. Chen also received a master’s degree in Business Management (MBA) from Ben-Gurion University. Between 2001 and 2005, having receiving the esteemed Rothschild and Fulbright Fellowships, he served as a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, California, where he started working in the field of Stress research. In 2005, he returned to the Weizmann Institute in the Department of Neurobiology and received the ‘Alon Fellowship’; the most prestigious Israeli fellowship for returning scientists. At 2013, he was made Director and Scientific Member at the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry and Head of the Max Planck Society – Weizmann Institute of Science Laboratory for Experimental Neuropsychiatry and Behavioral Neurogenetics.
Prof. Chen’s research focuses on the Neurobiology of Stress, particularly the mechanisms by which the brain is regulating the response to stressful challenges and how this response is linked to psychiatric disorders. The collective long-term goal of his research is to elucidate the pathways and mechanisms by which stressors are perceived, processed, and transduced into neuroendocrine and behavioral responses under healthy and pathological conditions.
Prof. Chen’s lab has made significant discoveries in his field, including fundamental aspects of the organism’s stress response and actions that link specific stress-related genes, epigenetic mechanisms and brain circuits with anxiety disorders, depression, eating disorders and the metabolic syndrome. Prof. Chen and his team use both genetic mouse models and human patients to ultimately create the scientific groundwork for therapeutic interventions to treat stress-related behavioral and physiological disorders