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January 22, 2001

Nemeroff's lecture digs for the
causes of adult depression

By Sarah Dergarabedian

Most people experience an occasional funk or the “blues” at one time or another, but clinical depression is a much more serious and debilitating condition that affects an estimated 18 million Americans each year.

Charles Nemeroff, Harris Professor and chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, specializes in pinpointing the biological basis for major neuropsychiatric disorders including affective disorders, Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia and anxiety disorders. He has found that people who experienced abuse and neglect in childhood, particularly if they also have a family history of depression, may be at increased risk for adulthood depression.

As part of the Great Teachers Lecture Series, the award-winning researcher will discuss the neurobiology of depression and how the physiological effects of childhood trauma may contribute to depression and anxiety in adults, at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 25, in the Miller-Ward Alumni House.

Nemeroff will discuss his hypothesis, published several years ago in Scientific American, that early traumatic experiences can trigger the body’s “fight or flight” stress response and lead to permanent changes in brain chemistry.

This hypothesis, the Stress-Diathesis Model of Mood Disorders, became the basis for a five-year, $13 million grant awarded in 1999 by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).

The grant supported the establishment of the Emory Conte Center for the Neuroscience of Mental Disorders, comprising a team of neuroscientists from Emory, Yale and Princeton universities and led by Nemeroff.

“Essentially, we’re trying to understand the biological basis behind the risk for developing psychiatric disorders in adulthood,” Nemeroff said. “These studies have important implications not only for the neurobiology of depression, but for the development of novel treatment strategies for depression, certain anxiety disorders and child abuse.”

Nemeroff received his medical and doctoral degrees in neurobiology from the University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill. He came to Emory in 1991 from Duke Medical Center, where he served as chief of biological psychiatry.

He has received several major research grants from NIMH and other foundations throughout his career. Nemeroff also has earned numerous awards for excellence in research, including the 2000 William C. Menninger Memorial Award from the American College of Physicians-American Society of Internal Medicine for distinguished contributions to the science of mental health.

Nemeroff’s lecture is free and open to the public. For more information, call 404-727-6000.


Back to Emory Report Jan. 22, 2001