The 5 Research Domains of the NCCR-Synapsy
The majority of mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, autism, and bipolar mood disorder, have a genetic contribution. At the same time, the cultural, social and psychological context in which an individual is raised also influences the development of a mental illness. Through its research projects Synapsy aims to study the joint role of genetic and environmental factors in the origin and development of a psychiatric disorder.
Synapsy's scientific projects are articulated in translational workpackages (WPs) involving clinical research teams working closely with researchers using animal models.
The projects of the 5 different WPs are all built around Vaud-Geneva Lemanic clinical cohorts.
WP#1 - Schizophrénie (cohorte 22q11)
WP#2 - Schizophrénie idiopathique
WP#3 - Autisme
WP#4 - Stress précoce
WP#5 - Troubles de l'humeur
WP#1 - 22q11 Deletion Syndrome
This translational project aims to identify the neurodevelopmental alterations responsible for the increased risk of developing psychosis in patients with a defined genetic alteration (22q11 microdeletion) as well as in a mouse model with the same genetic alteration (LgDel mice).
The goal is to study the relationship between the alteration of certain neuronal circuits and the behavioral manifestations of the disease. Patients are studied through multimodal analyzes of neural networks and cognitive endophenotypes. In mice, synaptic alterations and abnormal circuits affecting the hippocampus as well as prefrontal and cingulate cortex are examined.
WP # 2 - Biomarkers of early psychosis
The identification of early biomarkers is key to identifying patients at risk of developing schizophrenia.
In this translational project, it was discovered in both animal models and humans that a dysregulation of the oxidative system (redox) is a major risk factor for the development of schizophrenia.
Neurochemical, transcriptomic and metabolomic profiles are studied and associated with the analysis of structural and functional networks in psychotic patients. The results are compared with similar approaches performed in a mouse model deficient for an important enzyme in the redox system.
WP # 3 - Autism Spectrum Disorders
The purpose of this project is to study a cohort of very young children with autism spectrum disorders in order to determine the effect of an early intervention on the clinical and brain development of these patients.
In parallel, studies on animal models attempt to elucidate the role of certain circuits and molecular mechanisms that could explain the appearance of autistic symptoms. Indeed, the effect of genes conferring high risk for autistic disorders are studied in animal models and allow to better understand the role of specific brain circuits regulating social behaviors.
WP # 4 – Developmental Stress
Early adversity plays a key role in the vulnerability to psychiatric illnesses, particularly for the onset of emotional regulation disorders.
In this project, children subjected to early-life traumas are followed longitudinally with the aim of studying the emergence of anxious and depressive-like behaviors, and their link with a dysregulation of brain circuits involved in emotional regulation.
Animal models focusing on exposure to early-life stress allow us to study the mechanisms by which traumatic experiences of an emotional nature are durably encoded in brain networks via epigenetic mechanisms.
WP # 5 - Mood disorders
The purpose of this project is to study the factors that lead to the occurrence of a mood disorder by studying an at-risk population of children of parents suffering from depression and bipolar disorder.
Using multimodal neuroimaging methods, it is possible to detect alterations in brain function in this at-risk population and thereby develop new biomarkers.
Research on animal models has identified glial cells and lactate as key players in the neurobiology of mood disorders. In ongoing projects, the role of astrocytes in brain plasticity and the response to antidepressants is being studied at the molecular level.