By Michelle Jaffee
Joshua A. Gordon, M.D., Ph.D., director of the National Institute of Mental Health, delivered the eighth annual William G. Luttge Lecture in Neuroscience on Thursday, delving into the roles of genetics, neural circuits and computational approaches in advancing new understanding and treatment of mental illnesses.
In a packed DeWeese Auditorium in the Evelyn F. and William L. McKnight Brain Institute of the University of Florida, an enthusiastic crowd of more than 150 neuroscience students and faculty members gathered for the first Luttge Lecture in four years, after a long interruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gordon discussed efforts underway at NIMH, the lead federal agency for research on mental disorders and supporter of more than 3,000 research grants and contracts at universities, academic health centers and other research institutions. In describing opportunities and progress in the field, he highlighted studies including one he co-led with UF neuroscientist Nancy Padilla-Coreano, Ph.D., an assistant professor of neuroscience who studies how neural mechanisms may drive social behaviors.
Established and supported by the McKnight Brain Research Foundation, the William G. Luttge Lectureship honors late visionary neuroscientist William G. “Bill” Luttge, Ph.D., the founding director of UF’s Brain Institute that became the McKnight Brain Institute. The lecture is part of a joint seminar series of UF’s department of neuroscience and the McKnight Brain Institute and kicks off excitement for UF’s celebration of Brain Awareness Week, which this year will be held March 6-10.
Among the challenges for researchers, Gordon said, is that mental illness is the third highest form of disability in the U.S., after cardiovascular disease and cancer, and these illnesses often strike early in life and are for the most part chronic, causing morbidity and mortality through the lifespan.
In discussing opportunities for research, such as furthering understanding of how a genetic mutation may increase risk for schizophrenia, Gordon emphasized as next steps the importance of enriching the diversity of genetic data beyond people of European descent, a group disproportionately studied in this line of research in the past.
“On the whole, genetics represents an opportunity for understanding the neurobiology of schizophrenia,” he said.