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DR. FRANCIS LEE: Im very excited about this new paradigm about mental health

in the sense that its being spearheaded by people that are studying neurodevelopment.

ANNOUNCER: Dr. Francis Lee is with Weill-Cornell Medical College and was a recent guest lecturer

at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda. Dr. Lees primary research

is in basic molecular and neural mechanisms and how they relate to brain disorders. His

primary focus is on a molecule found in the brains fear hub that may influence anxiety

disorders. That molecule, BDNF, stands for brain derived neurotrophic factor

DR. FRANCIS LEE: It was actually discovered not that long agoonly about three decades

ago. It turns out to be one of the major growth factors of the brain so it actually keeps

sort of likekeeps the nerves alive and healthy as one of its main functions. Its

other main function is that as you learn or do something new, the neurons have to actually

change their electrical capacity or change their shape in order to adjust to the new

situations. And brain derived neurotrophic factor seems to be required for all these

plastic changes. The way my work fits into this is that we have one of the first mouse

models of a human polymorphism that seems to confer some difficulties in dealing with

anxieties or stressful situations. And were able to actually quantitate in a very rigorous

manner in a mouse model and also try to do parallel studies with our collaborators on

human models- with human subjects who have this polymorphism in a way we were able to

root certain hypothesis about these genetic alternations in mouse models and test them

also in biologically relevant way in humans. ANNOUNCER: Dr. Lees mouse model research

could have a direct impact on the effectiveness of treatment on patients suffering from disorders

such as Post Traumatic Stress DisorderDR. FRANCIS LEE: I think what were really

excited about recently was this finding that the mice- when they have to learn that a previously

dangerous signal, in this case a tone, is no longer dangerous. So it actually is a form

of learning- that they have difficulty with it. So, that everything in their environment

stays dangerous. Its very akin to what happens in this disorder called Post Traumatic

Stress Disorder or PTSD. And actually one of the main treatments for it is, other than

standard pharmacological agents like Zoloft which we had mentioned, is a form of behavioral

therapy that requires the patient to learn something new. They have to learn that a previously

dangerous condition such as being near tall buildings, if they had been a victim of 9-11,

is no longer dangerous. And what were finding is that issuggests mice or possibly people

with this polymorphism will have greater difficulty with this. This really gives us insight into

possible treatment because there are many cognitive enhancers that are currently being

developed to try to help people accelerate this extinction process in Iraqi war veterans

as well as World Trade Center victims. And this is a perfect example of how you would

have personalized medicine. ANNOUNCER: Perhaps the most exciting part

of Dr. Lees research involves the possibility of identifying people who may be susceptible

to future anxiety issuesDR. FRANCIS LEE: Ultimately, the best use

of this type of information is it suggests that humans and mice that have this polymorphism

might not be as resilient to stress and that you might want to-probably- do everything

possible if theyre going to be in a stressful situation. A perfect example would be where

were currently doing various behavioral therapies to prepare West Point cadets before

they go off to Iraqi Freedom stints and that it would be great that if in some future we

could get people before they actually develop PTSD and say they - identify people that might

be at greater risk and essentially, provide appropriate resilience training even before.

We actually want to call it something we call stress inoculation.

ANNOUNCER: While his research is promising, Dr. Lee knows the study of BDNF could be one

step in a much longer journey…. DR. FRANCIS LEE: One caveat I would say is

that if BDNF was the answer for all these treatments, all these diseases, than we would

have solved in by now. So, Im fully aware there are many other molecules and other genes

that are probably also affecting this process and we might

just be looking at a tip of an iceberg.

The Description of Anxiety Disorders Research: Impact of BDNF