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Drs. Peter Franzen and Colleen McClung Receive
NARSAD Independent Investigator Awards

The Department of Psychiatry is pleased to announce that two members of our faculty have been named the latest recipients of NARSAD Independent Investigator Awards by the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation.  These two-year grants are awarded to researchers at the associate professor level and are designed to support a broad range of brain research projects. 

Colleen McClung, PhD
Molecular Rhythms and Psychiatric Disorders: Measurements in Human Brain

Current treatments for bipolar disorder, major depression and schizophrenia are not ideal and many people remain treatment resistant. Previous studies have found that these disorders are associated with significant disruptions to circadian rhythms.  Moreover, disruptions to normal circadian rhythms are known to precipitate mood and psychotic episodes and current treatments used for these disorders including lithium, valproate, and social rhythm therapy lead to stabilization of circadian rhythms, suggesting that the ability of these treatments to stabilize rhythms is likely very important in their therapeutic efficacy. By measuring molecular rhythms in human brain, Dr. McClung will investigate whether these alterations in circadian rhythms are present at the molecular level in brain regions important for regulating mood and cognition. This type of analysis will help investigators to determine the importance of molecular rhythmicity in the primary pathology of psychiatric disorders.  

The NARSAD Independent Investigators Award will enable Dr. McClung and her team to extend human studies into psychiatric disease cohorts (bipolar depression, schizophrenia and major depressive disorder) in three separate brain regions. She will also begin to correlate significant deviations in rhythms with individual features such as suicide, and psychosis across diseases. Through this comprehensive integrative analysis Dr. McClung will begin to determine the ways in which rhythms are altered in human brain and how these changes are associated with psychiatric diseases.

Peter Franzen, PhD
Sleep Disturbance in Adolescents with and without Bipolar Disorder:
Influences on Emotion Regulation and Cognitive Control Neural Circuitry, Suicide, and Treatment Response

Up to 50% of youth with bipolar disorder attempt suicide, and of all psychiatric diagnoses, bipolar disorder imparts the greatest risk for completed suicide in youth. Sleep disturbances are associated with elevated risk for suicide attempts and completion over and above severity of psychopathology in adolescents and adults. However, the pathway by which sleep disturbance leads to suicidal behavior remains unclear. With support from the NARSAD award, Dr. Franzen will investigate the neural mechanisms by which sleep disturbance influences suicide risk and treatment response to adjunctive dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) in youth with bipolar disorder.  This project leverages findings from a randomized clinical trial of adjunctive dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) versus standard of care psychotherapy for adolescents with bipolar disorder. DBT is hypothesized to significantly improve suicidality and mood symptoms by enhancing emotion regulatory capabilities; sleep disturbance is hypothesized to disrupt this activity. It also builds on Dr. Franzen’s collaboration with colleagues to examine the neural circuitry underlying emotion regulation and cognitive control via functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in eligible bipolar participants at baseline and mid-treatment. 

The grant will also enable Dr. Franzen to enroll a comparison sample of healthy adolescents without psychiatric disorders, and measure sleep patterns via actigraphy in both patients and controls. The goal of the study is to increase our understanding of how sleep and emotion regulatory brain function contribute to the pathophysiology of pediatric bipolar disorder, and provide valuable objective information regarding disease and treatment processes, as well as identification of biomarkers of treatment response.