Neuroepigenetics

PI:    
Prof. B. Rutten, Dr. D. Van den Hove, Dr. G. Kenis (coordinators)
Prof. K.P. Lesch
Prof. H. Steinbusch
Dr. R. Delgado-Morales

Postdocs:
L. Eijssen
L. de Nijs
D. Mastroeni
J. Vangeneugden

PhD students:    

C. Hammels MSc.
M. van den Hurk MSc.
A. Iatrou MSc.
R. Lardenoije MSc.
N. Leibold MSc.
M. Levy MSc.
E. Pishva MSc.
Y. Pujol MSc.
K. Schraut MSc.
M. Weidner MSc.

Associated Researchers:    
Prof. T. Van Amelsvoort
Dr. G. Hoogland
Prof. B. Leonard
Prof. J. van Os
Dr. Rainald-Schmidt-Kastner
Dr. K. Schruers
Dr. T. Strekalova
Prof. F. Verhey
Dr. P-J. Visser


Focus of research:   
Understanding the role of epigenetic and gene-environment (GxE) interactions in the pathophysiology of psychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders

The organization of DNA into chromatin enables the cell to use powerful regulatory mechanisms broadly defined as epigenetics. Epigenetic changes are reversible and responsive to environmental influences, unlike genetic mutations, which represent rare events with permanent consequences on genes. Research on Neuroepigenetics and environmental epigenetics aims to characterize the molecular basis that underlies sensitivity to environmental exposures and associated gene-environment (GxE) interactions in (neuro)psychiatric and neurodegenerative phenotypes and disorders, with a particular interest in epigenetics. This program examines several aspects of epigenetic regulation, such as DNA methylation at promoter sites, chromatin modifications, gene silencing induced by miRNAs, and other novel epigenetic mechanisms, for their roles in disease and dysfunction consequent to environmental conditions. The ultimate goal of this program is to identify molecular and cellular pathways that are causally involved in the etiologies of psychiatric disorders, to identify biologic markers that predict disease onset and course, to determine the reversibility of neurobiological changes, and to find novel preventive and therapeutic strategies. Neuroepigenetics focuses on two main research themes/questions. First, what are the neurobiological underpinnings of neuropsychiatric and neurodegenerative phenotypes, with a particular focus on mechanisms involving gene-environment interactions? Second, what is the role of epigenetic mechanisms in mediating gene-environment interactions in and long-term consequences of (developmental) environmental perturbations? These research themes/questions are applied to Alzheimer’s disease, depression and anxiety disorders, schizophrenia and epilepsy. State-of-the-art technologies are being employed to analyze the epigenetic changes in single genes, signaling pathways or the entire genome in response to variations in environmental exposure. Research involves various innovative, translational projects using in vitro cell cultures, in vivo animal models, and human tissues and/or biologic samples to examine (epi)genetic modifications and to determine the precise mechanism responsible for these changes. Of note, the Neuroepigenetics group is part of a broader initiative at Maastricht University, which is referred to as ‘Translational Neuropsychiatry’ (TNP), bringing together all divisions within MH&NS in a collaborative approach to further investigate the neurobiology of psychiatric disorders in a translational setting. As such, these lines of research are supported by grants from the Internationale Stichting Alzheimer Onderzoek (ISAO), the European union, NWO-Veni and Hersenstichting Nederland.