Research Training in Psychiatric and Statistical Genetics [T32 MH020030]

Integrated Multidisciplinary Research – To clarify the complex field of psychiatric genetics, the figure below illustrates the general conceptual framework around which our research and training programs are organized. Polymorphisms in the genome and environmental exposures repeatedly combine at the molecular level to generate individual differences in brain structure and function. These differences manifest as psychological traits and states, primarily systems involving fear, reward and punishment, decision-making and cognition. At the extremes of individual differences, potentially including system failure, psychiatric diagnostic thresholds are reached. Throughout the process, feedback loops involving environmental agents (either positive or negative) further influence gene expression, brain structure and function and ultimately mental health and other outcomes. This complex system is extremely challenging to study, but tremendous opportunities exist both within and between its components.

Our training program is designed to provide an integrative training across all parts of the system, together with specialization in at least one primary substantive or methodological area. It is our experience that extensive research training in one substantive or theoretical domain, coupled with a broad exposure to the findings and methods of other areas provides the most solid foundation for a future career as an independent research scientist. For example, a geneticist who is familiar with the assessment of depression will be better able to analyze GWAS data using an appropriate range of phenotype definitions than one who has studied Mendelian or molecular genetics alone where the focus is traditionally on a single ‘true’ phenotype.