Alon Chen receives transnational funding for research on Epigenetics in Major Depression

The governments of France, Germany and Canada join forces to promote research on epigenetic mechanisms in complex diseases and to open new routes for prevention, diagnosis and therapy

September 01, 2015

Alon Chen (Germany), Gustavo Turecki (Canada), El Chérif Ibrahim and Catherine Belzung (France) together receive more than 1 million Euros funding for a comprehensive study of small non-coding RNA molecules (ncRNA) in Major Depression. ncRNAs are not translated into proteins but regulate gene activity and thus various cellular activities. There is increasing evidence suggesting a key role for ncRNAs in the development of psychiatric disorders and their treatments. The project’s goal is to identify biomarkers of Major Depression and predictors for antidepressant response.

Gustavo Turecki, Professor at the McGill University in Montréal (Canada), Alon Chen, Director at the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich (Germany), Catherine Belzung, Professor at the University of Tours (France) and El Chérif Ibrahim, Research Scientist at the Aix-Marseille Université (France).

Major Depression affects 6 to 10 % of the population and despite its prevalence and considerable burden, our understanding of the underlying mechanisms remains rudimentary. Antidepressants are the most common treatment for Major Depression, yet roughly one third of the patients experience an inadequate response to treatment after several attempts. Thus, there is a great need in not only identifying biomarkers of Major Depression but also those that can predict a response to antidepressant treatment.

As the onset of Major Depression is commonly associated with an environmental trigger, and the contribution of environmental factors to the disease is substantial, the investigation of dynamic epigenetic factors is crucial. “In our joint project we want to learn how ncRNAs may regulate the disease onset and evaluate their ability as biomarkers for Major Depression and for predicting the patient’s response to antidepressants,” states Alon Chen, Director at the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry. “The project brings together leading researchers working on the neurobiology and treatment of Major Depression to combine their expertise. We expect the information that will be generated to have substantial impact on the treatment of Major Depression.”

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