Pitt Receives $10 Million NIMH Grant For Schizophrenia Research

Issue Date: 
September 8, 2008

The University of Pittsburgh has received a $10 million grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to support a new Conte Center for the Neuroscience of Mental Disorders (CCNMD). The center will focus on developing new treatments for schizophrenia, a disease that affects more than two million adults in the United States alone. The grant will enable Pitt researchers to gain a better understanding of the disease process and to identify pathophysiology-based molecular targets for novel therapeutic interventions for this devastating mental illness.

“Our goal is to understand how schizophrenia affects brain function, to identify new treatments, and to develop better ways to assess the effectiveness of those treatments,” said David A. Lewis, Pitt professor of neuroscience and psychiatry and UPMC Endowed Professor of Translational Neuroscience.


               David A. Lewis

“The center provides a multidisciplinary approach to understanding the neurobiology of schizophrenia and includes specialists in molecular neurobiology, systems and computational neuroscience, brain imaging, and clinical psychiatry,” he added.

Schizophrenia is a complex and challenging mental illness with clinical features that include difficulty thinking logically, an inability to recognize and express emotions, relate to others, and interpret reality. It is a chronic condition that can be difficult to manage with medication. Schizophrenia has been identified by the World Health Organization as one of the leading causes of years of life lost to disability and premature mortality.

The center’s research is based on the widely replicated observation that expression of a gene that synthesizes the neurotransmitter GABA is reduced in the brains of individuals with schizophrenia. GABA, or gamma-aminobutyric acid, is an important neurotransmitter essential for core cognitive processes such as working memory. CCNMD investigators are working to understand how reduced GABA could lead to impairments in brain function that are typical of schizophrenia.

The CCNMD offers a highly interactive scientific environment linking investigators from Pitt’s Schools of Medicine and Arts and Sciences as well as the Pitt-Carnegie Mellon University Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition.

Project and core leaders on the grant include Raymond Cho, Guillermo Gonzalez-Burgos, Gordon Frankle, Mary Phillips, Department of Psychiatry; Chester Mathis, Department of Radiology; Allan Sampson, Department of Statistics; and G. Bard Ermentrout, Department of Mathematics, all of the University of Pittsburgh; and Carl Olson, Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition, Carnegie Mellon University.