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Post-Doctoral Student at University of Maryland School of Medicine Awarded Grant to Study Relationship Between Stress and Depression

December 18, 2015

Tara LeGates, PhD

Young Investigator Receives Support from Brain & Behavior Foundation

University of Maryland School of Medicine Department of Physiology Professor and Chair Scott M. Thompson, PhD, announced today that Tara LeGates, PhD, a post-doctoral student in his laboratory, has received a grant from the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation. The funding will support Dr. LeGates’ research related to developing new methods of treating depression. Specifically, this study will investigate how stress weakens communication between brain cells in the brain’s reward circuitry and whether restoring the strength of these connections is a critical element of antidepressant efficacy. Dr. LeGates will use state-of-the-art techniques that allow for the use of light to control the activity of the brain cells in these circuits in an attempt to restore depression-related behaviors in animal models of depression.

Dr. LeGates completed her PhD in July, 2013, performing her thesis work in the lab of Dr. Samer Hattar at Johns Hopkins University in the Cellular, Molecular, Developmental Biology and Biophysics Program. There, she studied the influence of light on mood and cognitive functions. She discovered a novel pathway whereby light can lead to changes in depression-related behavior, independent of the sleep and circadian systems, and identified the intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells responsible for mediating these functions. Dr. Thompson, who will oversee the research and serve as a mentor, said he has been highly impressed with Dr. LeGates’ knowledge, maturity, enthusiasm and passion for research.

Recent work in the Thompson laboratory at UM SOM has identified novel compounds that may treat depression rapidly with few side effects. The study was published in the journal, Neuropsychopharmacology. The research is part of the UM SOM Brain Science Research Consortium Unit, which will be presenting its recent work at the School’s upcoming Festival of Science.

About the University of Maryland School of Medicine

The University of Maryland School of Medicine was chartered in 1807 and is the first public medical school in the United States, continuing today as an innovative leader in accelerating innovation and discovery in medicine. The School of Medicine is the founding school of the University of Maryland and is an integral part of the 11-campus University System of Maryland. Located on the University of Maryland’s Baltimore campus, the School of Medicine works closely with the University of Maryland Medical Center and Medical System to provide a research-intensive, academic, and clinically-based education. With 43 academic departments, centers, and institutes and a faculty of more than 3,000 physicians and research scientists plus more than $400 million in extramural funding, the School is regarded as one of the leading biomedical research institutions in the U.S., with top-tier faculty and programs in cancer, brain science, surgery and transplantation, trauma and emergency medicine, vaccine development, and human genomics, among other centers of excellence. The School is not only concerned with the health of the citizens of Maryland and the nation but also has a global presence, with research and treatment facilities in more than 35 countries around the world. http://medschool.umaryland.edu/

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