Québec consolidates its international position in mental health research - Two Québec teams funded through the European research network ERA-Net NEURON

MONTREAL, Jan. 11, 2011 /CNW Telbec/ - The Fonds de la recherche en santé du Québec (FRSQ) is very pleased to announce that, for the very first time, two Québec research teams working in collaboration with European partners will be funded as part of a call for proposals by ERA-Net NEURON, a European neurosciences and mental illness research network.

Two of the eleven multinational projects that were selected to receive funding involve research teams from Québec. To be eligible, projects had to be presented by a network of researchers from at least three NEURON-member countries. This was the first ERA-Net NEURON competition to which Québec researchers could apply since the FRSQ entered the partnership in 2009. In fact, the FRSQ is the first Québec funding agency to join ERA-Net.

"We are very proud of the success of the teams from Québec and are exceedingly pleased to be able to provide our top researchers with the means to collaborate with members of an impressive network of European mental health investigators. This initiative is in line with the strategy to develop our leadership position in international health research," affirmed Yves Joanette, President and Chief Executive Officer, FRSQ.

The selection process was carried out in two phases. In total, 103 teams -24 of which included collaborators in Québec- presented letters of intent to the assessment committee, which then asked 32 groups to submit complete applications. Six teams listed members from Québec. The committee then granted funding to 11 projects, two of which included Québec researchers.

Local project teams will receive some $150 000/year for three years from the FRSQ, and their collaborators will receive sums from funding agencies like the FRSQ in their home countries. The two projects in which Québec researchers are taking part will explore the genetic mechanisms of autism and schizophrenia as well as perinatal stress and its epigenetic impacts on depression. These initiatives will be carried out in collaboration with teams from Germany, Spain, France and Italy.

From autism to schizophrenia

Dr. Guy Rouleau, researcher and geneticist at CHU Sainte-Justine, will lead one of the Québec research teams, collaborating with groups in France, Spain and Germany to determine the genetic mechanisms that yield the anomalies in brain anatomy and function observed in schizophrenic and autistic persons.

Schizophrenia and autism are characterized by subtle changes in brain anatomy, especially in white matter and the cortex. In fact, the illnesses share certain symptoms and neurocognitive manifestations. The causes are complex, stemming from personal genetics and environmental changes that occur during development.

The researchers believe that schizophrenia and autism have common genetic and molecular bases. To validate this hypothesis, each project team will explore an aspect of the issue according to their area of expertise. Teams will carry out imaging and genetic analyses and verify their results in mutant mouse models. The complementarity of the teams' undertakings will serve to advance an integrated approach for the study of schizophrenia and autism.

Dr. Rouleau's team, which specializes in the genetics of neuropsychiatric disorders, will consider genetic variations in families of which only certain members are affected by schizophrenia or autism (sporadic cases). These studies could lead to the discovery of new genes associated with these illnesses.

By pooling the teams' research results, the project will elucidate the biological bases of schizophrenia and autism in an effort to enhance the diagnosis and treatment of those affected.

POSEIDON: perinatal stress and adult depression

Dubbed POSEIDON, the second project aims to study prenatal, perinatal and postpartum stress and its epigenetic impacts on depression. The originality and strength of the project lie in the studies conducted to assess the phenomenon in various species through an international initiative that brings together several teams. A group in Germany will study the occurrence in humans and a team in Italy will investigate the incidence in rodents while researchers in Québec, led by Moshe Szyf of the Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics at McGill University, will focus on monkeys.

It is now known that life experiences in childhood can lastingly affect the activity of the genes involved in stress response, which play a significant role in the development of mental disorders. This epigenetic phenomenon in humans was recently elucidated by Moshe Szyf's team and collaborators Michael Meaney and Gustavo Turecki.

Researchers will follow animal cohorts to determine if the epigenetic changes that take place following exposure to stress in early life persist into adulthood. By assessing the occurrence in children, the results will reveal whether there are similarities between the changes in animals and those observed in humans.

This project aims to elucidate the epigenetic signatures that could be used to predict the emergence of mental disorders, help diagnose them and ultimately prevent and treat them.

About ERA-Net NEURON

ERA-Net is a European initiative to coordinate collaborative European research programs. It involves national and regional research funding agencies and focuses on a series of themes selected by partners, especially focusing on those that are in line with the priorities of the European Community's 7th Framework Programme. Partner funding agencies support collaborative research in all ERA-Net initiatives through their own research budgets and according to their own funding regulations. ERA-Net NEURON aims to drive neuroscientific and mental health research. www.neuron-eranet.org

About the Fonds de la recherche en santé du Québec

The Fonds de la recherche en santé du Québec (FRSQ), which reports to the Minister of Economic Development, Innovation and Export Trade, supports health research in order to foster the well-being of Quebecers. Its mandate is to promote and provide funding for research, to disseminate knowledge, and to contribute to training, as well as to establish partnerships crucial to the development of Québec's research and innovation system and its international reach. www.frsq.gouv.qc.ca

SOURCE Fonds de la recherche en santé du Québec

For further information:

Michelle Dubuc
FRSQ
514-873-2114, ext. 235
mdubuc@frsq.gouv.qc.ca

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