Dr. Paul Jenkins – Identifying and Developing More Effective Treatments for Bipolar Disorder

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Rising Star Award Research Update – Paul Jenkins, PhD 

Assistant Professor of Pharmacology and Psychiatry at the University of Michigan

2018 One Mind Rising Star Bipolar Disorder Translational Research Award

Paul Jenkins Bipolar Research imageBipolar Disorder is a serious mental illness that affects more than 6 million people in the United States. Notable for causing mood swings from mania to severe depression, the condition can severely impact a person’s employment or education, relationships, and overall health. Almost half of those who are affected by bipolar disorder attempt suicide during their life.

Paul Jenkins, PhD, Assistant Professor of Pharmacology and Psychiatry at the University of Michigan Medical School was awarded the 2018 One Mind Rising Star Bipolar Disorder Translational Research Award. His lab focuses on how genetic changes contribute to the symptoms of complex neuropsychiatric diseases, like bipolar disorder. Specifically, he is interested in how a mutation in a gene linked to bipolar disorder (ANK3) and the protein it expresses (Ankyrin-G), can cause disruptions in brain activity.

With the $250,000 One Mind Rising Star Award, Dr. Jenkins and his team are using rodent models to test his hypothesis that alterations in the ankyrin-G protein play a key role in bipolar disorder.  By establishing the mechanisms by which ankyrin-G alters neuronal activity, he hopes to find new therapeutic targets for the prevention and treatment of bipolar disorder, as well as other neuropsychiatric disorders that involve forebrain circuitry. They are also investigating whether current treatments such as lithium and valproate effectively target ankyrin-G-dependent synaptic connections.

In his first year of One Mind funded research, Dr. Jenkins and his team are close to completing their first studies to determine if lithium exerts its effects via ankyrin-G by using a genetically modified mouse model. Results so far suggest that lithium does partially reverse neuronal signaling deficits caused by the Ank3 mutation. They have also identified specific cells affected by the mutation and are now investigating the underlying mechanisms within these cells.  Studies to determine if valproate is working through a similar mechanism are also underway. In addition, by taking biopsies from individuals who carry this ANK3 variant, they are creating patient derived cell cultures, which provide another model for testing their research questions.

The preliminary data from their One Mind award, helped Dr. Jenkins to receive three additional grants this year, one from the University of Michigan, one from the Brain and Behavioral Research Foundation, and one from the National Institutes of Health. One Mind is impressed with the work Dr. Jenkins and his team has done to date and we remain hopeful that the One Mind supported research they will do in the next two years will ultimately lead to developing more effective treatments for bipolar disorder. For more details on Dr. Jenkins’s research, please watch the recording of the presentation he made at our 2018 Music Festival for Brain Health or visit his lab website at pjenkinslab.org.