The unfolding story of how common versions of a gene shape the
efficiency of the brain's executive hub and increase risk for mental
illness will be told by Dr. Daniel R. Weinberger at this year's
G. Burroughs Mider Lecture, "Complex Genetics in the Human Brain:
Lessons from COMT," Oct. 12 at 3 p.m. in Masur Auditorium, Bldg.
10. Weinberger is director of NIMH's Genes, Cognition and Psychosis
Program, which uses brain imaging, post-mortem analysis and molecular
approaches to understand how genes work in the brain to produce
|Dr. Daniel R. Weinberger
Weinberger will explain why such psychiatric genetics has proven
to be a daunting challenge, using as an example the gene that codes
for catecho- O-methyltransferase (COMT), the enzyme that breaks
down the chemical messenger dopamine. A tiny variation in the gene
results in different versions. One leads to more efficient functioning
of the prefrontal cortex, the executive hub, the other to less
efficient prefrontal functioning and slightly increased risk for
schizophrenia. New studies are revealing complex interactions between
the tiny glitch and other variations within the gene and with environmental
events such as teenage marijuana use that may bias the brain toward
At the end of 2003, Science magazine ranked this and
related lines of research as the second most important scientific
breakthrough of the year.
Weinberger began his NIMH career in 1977 at NIMH's research center
at St. Elizabeths Hospital. He was founding chief of the NIMH Clinical
Brain Disorders Branch, which moved to the Clinical Center in 1998.
His group has pioneered studies on the role of abnormal brain development
in schizophrenia, defined dysfunctional neural systems and identified
genetic mechanisms of risk and genetic effects that account for
variation in human cognitive functions and temperament.
Board-certified in both psychiatry and neurology, Weinberger is
a member of National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine,
is current president of the American College of Psychopharmacology
and sits on the editorial boards of 16 scientific journals. He
has degrees from Johns Hopkins University and the University of
Pennsylvania Medical School and did a psychiatric residency at
Harvard University Medical School and a neurology residency at
George Washington University. He has published over 400 scientific
articles and authored or edited six books.