• Smita Thakker-Varia
  • Smita Thakker-Varia
  • Associate Professor
  • Department: Department of Neuroscience & Cell Biology
  • Program(s): Microbiology and Molecular Genetics Graduate Program
  • Phone: 1.7322355393
  • Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School
  • 683 Hoes Lane
  • Piscataway, NJ 08854
  • Key Words: Neurotrophic factors and neuropeptides in neuronal development, traumatic brain injury and mood disorders

My lab focuses on understanding the role of neurotrophins and Eph/ephrin signaling in traumatic brain injury (TBI) and the effects of genetic and pharmacological interventions to promote neuronal survival and regeneration after lateral fluid percussion (LFP) injury in mice. We are also beginning to explore other models such as repeated mild LFP injury paradigm, which more closely resembles injuries that commonly occur in humans, such as repeated concussions incurred by contact sports. New studies on recovery from injury in mouse models due to genetic variations followed by tracking their progress using biomarkers including the high-resolution anatomical imaging by MRI are in progress. The long-term goal is to use cellular, molecular and behavioral paradigms to assess different molecules as candidates for therapy following TBI.

The second major focus of my lab is studying the role of neurotrophin BDNF-induced neuropeptide VGF in the pathogenesis of depression. We have shown that antidepressants upregulate VGF and this neuropeptide is down regulated in the hippocampus of mice subjected to models of depression as well as in the specific regions of postmortem tissue from human hippocampii and cortex of bipolar disorder patients. Importantly we have documented a novel role for VGF as an antidepressant-like agent in animal models of depression. Our studies exploring mechanisms by which VGF acts as a mood stabilizer revealed that VGF enhances neurogenesis as well as synaptic activity in the hippocampus. We are now studying the influence of single nucleotide polymorphisms in the VGF gene on neuronal development and morphology. These studies will lead us to a better understanding on the role of VGF in the pathogenesis of mood disorders.