Researcher biography

Originally from Halifax, Canada, I completed a B.Sc. (Hon) in Experimental Psychology with Dr. Richard Brown at Dalhousie University. In 1999, I moved to Montreal to work with Dr. Michael Meaney and, in 2004, earned a Ph.D. in Neurological Sciences from McGill University. For my thesis, I examined gene-environment interactions and the influence of early life experience on cognitive development. From 2005 through 2009, I was awarded FRSQ, NSERC and CIHR research fellowships to pursue postdoctoral training at the University of California (Los Angeles). I worked with two very talented researchers at UCLA: Dr. Mark Barad, a psychiatrist with significant expertise in fear-related anxiety disorders and their treatment, and Dr. Yi Sun, a leader in the emerging field of epigenetics and stem cell biology. During my time at UCLA, I initiated collaboration for cross-disciplinary studies in epigenetics with Dr. Michael Kobor at the University of British Columbia, and studies in drug addiction with Dr. Tod Kippin at UCSB. In August 2009, I established the Psychiatric Epigenomics Laboratory at QBI.

The main aim of our research is to understand how epigenetic mechanisms contribute to the formation and maintenance of long-term memories, particularly within the context of psychiatric disorders such as phobia, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and the addictions. More generally speaking, we are interested in elucidating how the genome is connected to the environment, and how this relationship shapes brain and behaviour across the lifespan. Embedded within the chromatin environment, directly at the interface between intracellular signaling and DNA within the nucleosome, epigenetic mechanisms including histone modifications, DNA methylation and non-coding RNA’s represent an attractive foundation for experience-dependent, long-lasting changes in gene expression, cellular function and behaviour. In contrast to the information conveyed by a static genome, the epigenome is very dynamic and can be modified by exposure to a variety of environmental stimuli including a variety of learning paradigms, exposure to drugs of abuse, environmental toxins, dietary factors, and social interaction. For example, we have recently discovered that fear-related learning is associated with epigenetic modification of genes within the prefrontal cortex. The acquisition and extinction of conditioned fear lead to distinct patterns of histone acetylation around the P4 promoter of the gene encoding brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) (Bredy et al., 2007). We have also shown that histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitors, when administered during spaced extinction training, enhance long-term extinction memory and prevent renewal of conditioned fear (Bredy et al., 2008), evidence which suggests that the epigenome may represent a therapeutic epigenomic point of intervention for the treatment of fear-related anxiety disorders.