Wayne State University

Wayne State, Children's Hospital of Michigan researchers to lead study examining brain's role in pediatric mental health disorders

David Rosenberg, M.D., speaks with ABC reporter David Muir about Wayne State's research in pediatric mental health disorders.

DETROIT – Researchers at the Wayne State University School of Medicine are embarking on a second collaborative study with universities in Michigan and Canada to explore over five years the role of family genes in the brain function of children with mental health disorders like obsessive compulsive disorder, autism, anxiety, Tourette’s syndrome and depression.

WSU neuroimaging experts and psychiatrists in collaboration with researchers at the University of Michigan and University of Toronto will use through 2020 a $3,416,065 competitively renewed grant (2 R01 MH059299-15A1) from the National Institute of Mental Health to lead ongoing studies of the brain networks of children and adolescents, potentially leading to changes in how pediatric mental health disorders are understood, diagnosed and treated.

WSU will again serve as the lead coordinating center for the project, collaborating with researchers at U of M, which will contribute behavior and family genetics expertise and help recruit study participants, and U of T, which will conduct the genetic analyses.

Vaibhav Diwadkar, Ph.D., points to a functional magnetic resonance imaging scan.

“This combined brain imaging and genetics grant extends the work we have done in obsessive compulsive disorders to other conditions with obsessive behaviors, including autism spectrum disorders, depression, non-OCD anxiety and tic disorders,” said study principal investigator David Rosenberg, M.D., professor and chair of the WSU Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences and the Children’s Hospital of Michigan Miriam L. Hamburger Endowed Chair of Child Psychiatry.

The investigators will use functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, to acquire functional signals in children and adolescents with obsessive compulsive behaviors and healthy pediatric controls. Then, by applying sophisticated network analyses to the signals, in conjunction with complex genetic analyses, they intend to discover genetic bases of impaired brain networks underlying obsessive and compulsive behaviors.

The researchers are recruiting children and adolescents with and without OCD, hoarding disorders, non-OCD anxiety, autism spectrum disorders, tic disorders, Tourette’s and depression for the study, titled “1/3 Brain Function and Genetics in Pediatric Obsessive-Compulsive Behaviors.” Participants must be physically healthy and between 6 and 19 years old, with normal intelligence, no mental impairments and no history of substance abuse. Participants will be paid $120 for completing the MRI, genetic testing and clinical assessment. All MRI scanning will be performed at WSU. To inquire about participating in the study, call Pamela Falzarano at 313-745-4649 or email pfalzara@med.wayne.edu.

“One of the principle goals of the new iteration of the project is to discover dysfunctional brain network interactions underlying obsessive behaviors,” said Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences Vaibhav Diwadkar, Ph.D., the study co-principal investigator for WSU and co-director of its Brain Imaging Research Division.

“This goal is facilitated by the acquisition of fMRI data, but more importantly through the application of complex analytic methods, and genetic analyses, we may be able to discover a ‘causal’ pathway from genes, to brain networks, and how this pathway eventually leads to pathological behaviors such as OCD,” Dr. Diwadkar added.

The School of Medicine’s imaging division is strongly oriented toward understanding brain network function in health and dysfunction in disease, and is well-placed to address additional questions in the new cycle of the grant, he said. The research team has already begun work in this area, publishing an initial set of results in the March 2015 issue of Frontiers of Human Neuroscience.

WSU’s studies into brain mechanism and genetics in childhood OCD have received continuous funding from the NIMH since 1999. The team first discovered that the chemical glutamate – the brain’s light switch – played a key role in the functioning of children with OCD. Abnormal glutamate levels in certain brain regions are reversible with effective treatment.

“Wayne State University and the Detroit Medical Center’s Children’s Hospital of Michigan were the first to show this glutamate abnormality in OCD,” Dr. Rosenberg said. “Since then, not only has this finding been independently replicated, but it has led to new genetic and basic neuroscience studies and more recent treatment development trials with glutamate modulating drugs to converge to show glutamate is critically involved in OCD.”

The work, and children helped by treatment options that grew out of the studies, has been featured on ABC’s “20/20” television show several times since 2009. While glutamate-targeted medicines are used to treat resistant OCD, newer and more effective and selective glutamate medicines are being developed and tested.

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About Wayne State University, www.wayne.edu 

Wayne State University is a premier urban research institution offering more than 400 academic programs through 13 schools and colleges to nearly 32,000 students. Its School of Medicine educates more than 1,000 medical students in Midtown Detroit. In addition to undergraduate medical education, the school offers master’s degree, Ph.D. and M.D.-Ph.D. programs in 14 areas of basic science to about 400 students annually.

About the Children’s Hospital of Michigan, www.childrensdmc.org

For more than 125 years, the Children’s Hospital of Michigan is the first hospital in the state dedicated exclusively to the treatment of children. With more than 40 pediatric medical and surgical specialties and services, the hospital is a national leader in cancer, cardiology and heart surgery, gastroenterology and gastroenterology surgery, neurology and neurosurgery, nephrology, orthopedics, pulmonology and urology. It is ranked one of America’s best hospitals for children and sees more children than any hospital in the state. More Michigan pediatricians are trained at the Children’s Hospital of Michigan than at any other facility. Children’s Hospital of Michigan is one of eight hospitals operated by the Detroit Medical Center (DMC).