Epigenetics researcher awarded highly competitive grants

1 Nov 2017



Dr Tim Bredy, epigenetics researcherQBI’s Associate Professor Timothy Bredy has received two highly competitive grants for his research into understanding the epigenetics of fear-related learning and memory, particularly in anxiety disorders such as post-traumatic stress (PTSD).

Anxiety disorders affect millions of people around the world, with women twice as likely to be affected. More than 800,000 Australians will experience phobia or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at some point in their lives.

Despite these alarming statistics, current treatments have limited effectiveness and more research is needed to better understand the underlying mechanisms related to these debilitating disorders.

Dr Bredy’s new grants will help him delve into these mechanisms.

The NARSAD Independent Investigator Grant awarded by the Brain and Behaviour Research Foundation in the United Sates is given to mid-career researchers whose work has the greatest potential to make advances in mental health research. Dr Bredy was amongst only 40 researchers worldwide to be a recipient of this prestigious award.

“I am very honoured and delighted to have received the NARSAD Independent Investigator grant because it acknowledges the outstanding work of my lab team, who continually push the boundaries of understanding how genes are regulated and how they influence fear-related learning and memory,” Dr Bredy said.

This grant will fund their research into how long non-coding RNAs influence memory. Known as the ‘dark matter’ of the genome, these molecules represent a large proportion of genes that do not make proteins, but little is known about whether they play a role in regulating the expression of genes related to fearful memories like those experienced in anxiety disorders, such as PTSD.

“We’re just beginning to appreciate the vast diversity of functional non-coding RNAs in the brain,” Dr Bredy said. “It is a highly sophisticated surveillance system that enables neurons to rapidly respond to changes in the environment and difference experiences.”

“In the case of anxiety disorders like PTSD and phobia”, said Dr Bredy, “non-coding RNAs may assist the strengthening and inhibition of traumatic memories by controlling the expression of genes related to brain plasticity.”

The epigenetics of fear

Dr Bredy has also been awarded an NHMRC Senior Research Fellowship.

This five-year grant will support his team’s efforts into understanding how the brain regulates both short- and long-lasting, and sometimes heritable, changes in gene expression that are not dependent on chages to the underlying DNA.

“Over the past 10 years, I have worked to demonstrate that the epigenome in the adult brain represents a critical link between genes and the environment – our experiences – and plays an important role in regulating gene expression associated with cognitive function.

“My current research is focused on understanding the fundamental epigenetic processes underlying fear memory that contributes to phobia and PTSD, as well as the learning process known as extinction, which leads to a form of memory and behaviour suppression that is critically involved in the treatment of anxiety disorders.

“The brain circuits driving extinction learning are well understood, but the molecular mechanisms of these important forms of memory are less clear. My work aims to bridge this gap to provide a deeper understanding of fear-related anxiety disorders” he said.

Dr Bredy’s research will help to develop new drug treatments for anxiety disorders such as PTSD and phobia, and more broadly shed light on how the environment can affect our genes, through epigenetics.

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