Many different things can effect whether someone suffers from mental illness: with both a person’s genetics and their environment playing large roles. Together, these factors affect how the neurons and other cells of the brain function, ultimately affecting how we think. In our research group, we focus in particular on the role of proteins in the brain: how these may be affected in patients, and what the consequences are when they function incorrectly.
We therefore study these in two major ways. Firstly, we are interested in proteins that are known to be directly affected by genetic mutations in mental illness. By studying both the normal functions of these proteins in cells, and how cells are affected when they are stopped from functioning, we can gain insight into how mental illnesses may occur biologically. Secondly, we are interested in studying whether proteins become folded wrongly in mental illness, forming large masses (“aggregates”) of incorrectly folded protein, that in turn interfere with the normal functions of neurons. Such aggregates are known to be involved in many other life-long disorders of the brain (such as Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease), but have only recently been explored in major mental illness.