2014 Finalist Allyson K. Friedman, Ph.D. Robin Chemers Neustein Postdoctoral Research Fellow Pharmacology and System Therapeutics Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

Allyson Friedman received her undergraduate degree in biology from Barnard College at Columbia University.  For her Ph.D., she joined the laboratory of Dr. Klaudiusz Weiss in the Neuroscience department at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. It was there she explored the benefits of a simple model system in answering complex questions of how past experience alters the output of neuronal circuits. Dr. Friedman is currently a postdoctoral fellow in the department of Pharmacology and System Therapeutics at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, where she is conducting her research work in the laboratory of Dr. Ming-Hu Han. Her work explores the ionic and neural circuit mechanisms of susceptibility and resilience to major depressive disorder to identify novel targets for treatment. In the future, she plans to examine the mechanisms that underlie the protective effect of social support for mental health disorders.

Enhancing depression mechanisms in midbrain dopamine neurons achieves homeostatic resilience
Stress is continuously present in our daily lives. While a subset of individuals succumb to these stressors and develop depression, the majority of the population is able to maintain stable psychological functioning in the face of these daily perturbations. Understanding the biological basis of such resilience is crucial for the development of novel treatments for depression. To examine this, Dr. Friedman used a chronic social stress mouse model of depression in which stress susceptible mice develop higher firing activity in the neurons of the brain that release dopamine. Surprisingly, mice resilient to this chronic social stress maintain dopamine cell firing comparable to non-stressed mice. She found that this resilience is established by stabilizing the activity of these neurons through a homeostatic balancing response against the dramatically increased firing activity, which activates counteracting K+ channel functions. These results suggest that resilience occurs via a strong balancing of brain activity, or homeostatic response, that is triggered by the stress experience itself and thus provides a novel avenue for achieving treatment efficacy.

For Dr. Friedman‘s full essay, see Science online at sciencemag.org.