Neuroscientists Receive Grant from NIMH To Develop State-of-the-Art Genome Engineering Technologies

The Center for Behavioral Neuroscience (CBN) at Georgia State University has received a two-year, exploratory grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to develop transformative genome engineering research tools. dna2

The $416,625 award funds a pioneering project designed to create a novel series of transgenic and gene-targeted Syrian hamsters that will significantly advance understanding of the neural network controlling complex social behavior.

Social processes, such as social recognition, social avoidance, aggression and social communication, play a fundamental role in the formation and maintenance of relationships. These processes are known to be disrupted in illnesses such as mood and anxiety disorders, autism and schizophrenia. Development of new treatments for many psychiatric disorders requires a clearer understanding of the molecular mechanisms controlling these behaviors and how these mechanisms become dysregulated.

The technology necessary to study how behavior emerges from the complex interactive neural circuitry in the brain has been lacking. There are no well-established genome engineering technologies for some of the best animal species for studying social behavior and organization. Among these organisms are Syrian hamsters, which have proven to be an exceptionally useful rodent model for the study of social behavior.

Drs. Elliott Albers, Kim Huhman and Dan Cox from the CBN will work with Dr. Chengliu Jin from the Transgenic and Gene Targeting Core at Georgia State to overcome this limitation by developing and implementing state-of-the-art technologies in the Syrian hamster model to enable molecular interrogation of how genes act within neural circuits to regulate complex social behavior. They will implement genome engineering strategies to generate transgenic and gene-targeted mutant hamsters that will be used to identify and manipulate genes involved in regulating social behavior.

In the short term, successful development of transgenic and gene targeting approaches for Syrian hamsters will provide transformative tools to the research community for exploring the neurogenomic bases of social behaviors. In the long term, these transgenic tools will allow researchers to dissect the molecular bases of important neurobiological processes during normal development and as they relate to neuropsychiatric disorders.

“These state-of-the-art genome engineering approaches will be a significant new tool to understand the complex neural circuitry regulating normal and abnormal social behavior,” said Albers, CBN director and Regents Professor of Neuroscience. “We believe that the ability to develop transgenic and gene-targeted mutant hamsters will result in significant progress toward a better understanding of the etiology of psychiatric disorders.”

For more information on Dr. Elliott Albers and the research being conducted in his laboratory, visit

For more information on Dr. Kim Huhman and the research being performed in her laboratory, visit

For more information about Dr. Dan Cox and the research being conducted in his laboratory, visit

For more information on Dr. Chengliu Jin and the research being performed in the Transgenic and Gene Targeting Core, visit

For more information on the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience, visit

Georgia State Expert

Elliott Albers
Regents Professor of Neuroscience
Director, Center for Behavioral Neuroscience
Neuroscience InstituteAlbers directs the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience, where more than 100 neuroscientists are engaged in research programs with the goal of understanding the basic neurobiology of social behaviors. Albers has published extensively on the neural basis of behavior, has served on multiple editorial boards and has served as a consultant for more than 30 scientific journals.
Elliott Albers