Dana Alliance Members in Conversation: A Q&A with Eric Nestler

We spoke to neuroscientist and former Society for Neuroscience president Eric J. Nestler, M.D., Ph.D., about the bipartisan nature of biomedical research, his hopes for the future of addiction and depression, new findings on stress and depression, and more in the latest Dana Alliance member Q&A. These Q&As are part of a regular series of in-depth interviews that give readers a look into the outreach, research, and interests of the preeminent neuroscientists that make up the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives.

On why his institution, the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, prioritizes outreach, Nestler said:

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Brain Awareness Week Reception at SfN

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On Saturday, the Society for Neuroscience (SfN) kicked off its annual meeting with 30,000 people registered to attend the five-day program at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in downtown Washington, DC. The meeting provides one of the world’s largest forums for neuroscientists to debut research and to network with colleagues from around the world.

The Brain Awareness Week (BAW) reception was one of the first events, and it welcomed a diverse group of organizations to showcase their efforts in promoting the annual campaign to the public. President of SfN and member of the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives, Eric Nestler welcomed attendees and encouraged them to keep creating compelling content and engaging in BAW with hopes of making it a year-round effort.

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The Neurobiology of Resilience

Rather than focusing only on the bad effects of stress, should researchers also look for ways to induce resilience to treat depression and anxiety disorders? Based on recent research, Eric Nestler, Ph.D., a Dana Alliance member and chair of neuroscience at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, ponders this question in our recent briefing paper, “The Neurobiology of Resilience.”

The paper looks at both Nestler’s resilience research and that of his colleague Ming-Hu Han, Ph.D., an assistant professor in pharmacology and systems therapeutics at Mount Sinai’s Icahn School, who recently published a paper on global gene expression in resilient versus susceptible mice.

For every 100 genes that changed, either up or down, in susceptible mice, 300 genes changed in resilient mice, Han says.

“This was a very interesting finding because it means that resilient animals are not actually insensitive to stress, but rather are actively using more genes during stress,” says Han.

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Report on Progress: Epigenetics

In the latest Report on Progress, “Epigenetic Inheritance: Fact or Fiction?” Dana Alliance member Eric J. Nestler, M.D., Ph.D., discusses the relatively new field of epigenetics, and how nature and nurture play a role with genetics.

Recently, there has been increased attention to the possibility of a very different contribution of epigenetics: namely, that environmentally-induced epigenetic changes, in addition to occurring within the brain, might also occur in germ cells—sperm or egg—which are then passed onto the offspring and modify their responses to those same environmental exposures. This reflects a distinct definition of the term epigenetics, one that would involve the heritable transmission of life’s experiences to offspring without a change in DNA sequence.

Dr. Nestler says that there are “a growing number of provocative demonstrations that behavioral exposures can be passed onto offspring.”

You can find all the Reports on Progress here: http://dana.org/news/reportonprogress/

– Blayne Jeffries

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