Rita M. Cowell, PhD

Cowell-RitaAssistant Professor

Dept. of Psychiatry & Behavioral Neurobiology

Contact Information:

Office Address: CIRC 593A
Phone: 205-996-6130
E-mail: rcowell@uab.edu
Websites: School of Medicine Faculty Profile

Education:

University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana
BS, Biology, 1997

University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
PhD, Neuroscience, 2002

Post-Graduate Training:

University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Postdoctoral Fellow, Neurology, 2002-6

Research Interests:

Transcriptional regulation of early postnatal brain development: Insights into the pathology of Autism and Schizophrenia

Research Description:

Recent developments have lead to the understanding that autism and schizophrenia are neurodevelopmental disorders influenced by both environmental and genetic factors. One way in which environmental stimuli can influence gene transcription is by altering chromatin structure (methylation/acetylation) and the formation of transcriptional complexes. Our laboratory determined that the transcriptional coactivator PGC-1a, a protein involved in the control of metabolic gene expression in non-neuronal tissues, is concentrated in inhibitory interneurons during early postnatal rat brain development. Interestingly, inhibitory interneurons are dysfunctional in a variety of disorders, including autism, schizophrenia and epilepsy. Our laboratory is currently using Western blotting, RT-PCR, immunocytochemistry/confocal microscopy, chromatin immunoprecipitation assays, and targeted gene knockout technologies in cell culture and rodents to investigate the roles of PGC-1a and chromatin modifications in normal and pathological brain development. In addition, we are using single-cell laser capture to isolate neurons from post-mortem human brain tissue to determine whether there are cell-specific changes in gene expression in schizophrenia. These studies are aimed at elucidating how perturbations in gene expression during development contribute to the progression of neurodevelopmental disorders.

Publications

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