Studies looking at depression in humans and models of depression in animals show that depression involves changes in a part of the brain called the striatum. The striatum controls how we process rewards and attribute value to our experiences, while also regulating our goal-directed and habitual actions.
Activity in the striatum is relevant to understanding depression because people with depression often demonstrate dysfunctional reward and value assignment compared to healthy people. We need to reach a better understanding of how neurons in the striatum work to uncover what goes wrong in the brain when people become depressed, and catalyze the development of better treatments.
Dr. X. William Yang is an internationally recognized expert on the function of the striatum. He is now embarking on a project to reveal how brain circuits in the striatum mediate learning and alter the balance between goal-directed and habitual actions. He has developed novel biological tools to rapidly evaluate the role of genes in the striatum. Moving forward, Yang will utilize these tools to understand how genes affect learning and stress-induced pathological behaviors in the striatum. His highly innovative molecular genetic tools may be applied broadly to study other parts of the brain related to depression and validate potential therapeutic targets.
This update was included in the DGC Summer Newsletter, written by UCLA Student/Depression Grand Challenge Student Worker, Emilia Szmyrgala.