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Children’s Hospital Los Angeles Researcher Awarded $3.7M to Study Neural Circuits Associated with Developmental Disorders

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LOS ANGELES–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Pat
Levitt, PhD
, Chief Scientific Officer at Children’s Hospital Los
Angeles and Simms/Mann Chair in Developmental Neurogenetics, received a
grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to study critical
windows of development when experience can shape the brain.

Our laboratory investigates how the wiring of the brain that underlies
cognition and social and emotional behavior is built over time,” says
Dr. Levitt. “We want to determine the genetic factors that interact with
early experiences to influence how these brain circuits develop.”

Early brain development is driven largely by genetic information. But as
circuits form, there are specific periods of time during which the
forming connections are plastic: experience and environmental
factors modify the brain’s synapses – the connections between neurons –
and shape their maturation. Although neuroscientists know that these
windows exist, the mechanisms that control when these critical periods
occur are a mystery. A better understanding will lay the groundwork for
studies that can use experience and other ingredients of development to
promote healthy brain circuit formation and function.

Dr. Levitt’s team discovered that a gene for a protein called the MET
receptor functions in the developing brain to control the timing of when
specific synapses mature. The new funding will allow the research team
to determine the brain cells that are dependent upon proper function of
MET to form healthy connections. His team will use advanced genetic
tools to manipulate MET timing in preclinical models and determine how
windows of optimal plasticity for learning and other behaviors can be
controlled during development.

These studies continue with collaborators Kathie Eagleson, PhD,
Associate Professor of Research in Pediatrics at CHLA and Keck School of
Medicine, and Shenfeng Qiu, PhD, Associate Professor, University of
Arizona School of Medicine, Phoenix.

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About Children’s Hospital Los Angeles

Children’s Hospital Los Angeles has been ranked the top children’s
hospital in California and sixth in the nation for clinical excellence
by the prestigious U.S. News & World Report Honor Roll. The
Saban Research Institute at CHLA is one of the largest and most
productive pediatric research facilities in the United States. CHLA also
is one of America’s premier teaching hospitals through its affiliation
since 1932 with the Keck School of Medicine of the University of
Southern California. For more, visit CHLA.org, the child
health blog
and the research
blog
.

Contacts

Media Contact
Melinda Smith
[email protected]
(323)
361-7236

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