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Nadine Bernhardt Group

Neurobiology of Psychiatric Disorders

Portrait Nadine Bernhardt

Mental illness represents a major emotional, health and financial burden for patients, their families and society. Neuropsychiatric disorders account for about one-third of all years lived with disability worldwide, with rising prevalence and greatly increased mortality compared to the general population. At the same time, there has been limited improvements in the treatment and the availability of specific diagnostic and/or prognostic biomarkers.

For most psychiatric disorders, the etiology is complex involving genetics, in some cases by single gene mutations (e.g. tuberous sclerosis), in others by multiple genetic risk factors (e.g. schizophrenia, autism spectrum disorders, addiction, affective disorders). Furthermore, the high inter-individual variability in symptom severity and age-related progression is attributed to a number of environmental impacts. These can decisively influence the expression of the genetic "determinants" and thus lead to additive or synergistic interactions. Increased vulnerability results in developmentally relevant time windows and from the unique plasticity of the brain, whereby pre- and postnatal events modulate time-delayed pathophysiological changes. With this in mind, our research concerns investigations into the development of psychopathology employing foremost rodent models. Here, behavioral outcomes, neuropharmacology and neuromodulatory strategies form the basis to gain mechanistic insights into disease specific neuropathology. Within the clinical setting, we additionally aim to combine this work with studies in preclinical and patient cohorts.

In particular, we are interested in the dopamine system, which is unique among the brain’s modulatory systems in that it has discrete projections to specific brain regions involved in motor behavior, cognition and emotion. Disruptions within this regulatory system have been associated to the pathophysiology of several psychiatric disorders including addiction, schizophrenia, depression or repetitive symptomatology. One still unsolved question in this context, however, concerns the interplay between dopamine dysfunction and altered interneuron functionality for behavioral outcomes. Another area of interest concerns dopamine signaling, reward and cognitive functioning. Alterations predominate current hypothesis of addiction development and may be modulated via 3D printed neuroprosthetics.

Nadine Bernhardt Research: Figure
Figure: Approaches to study neuropsychiatric disorders in our lab are centered on models showing strong face and construct validity. Ultimately, we aim to recognize causal cellular and molecular changes to provide new targets and probe therapeutic strategies for clinical translation. Behavioral analysis may involve tests of anxiety, depression, anhedonia or aspects of learning. Neuroimaging, electrical activity or blood-derived cross-species biomarkers aid evaluation of disease progression and treatment effects.

Future Projects and Goals

Our primary goal is to describe disease-specific pathomechanisms with regard to a longitudinal developmental perspective. We do this predominantly via studies in valid animal models of psychiatric disorders with genetic, environmental or multifactorial etiology, which allow an in depth investigation of neurobiological correlates of behavioral abnormalities at all levels of brain integrity.

Our long-term aim is to establish

  1. new approaches to interfere with symptom manifestation and
  2. preventive treatment strategies with translational value.

Methodological and Technical Expertise

  • Behavioral testing with cross-species relevance
  • Brain stimulation (tDCS, edura) and recording (LFP, ERP…)
  • Detection of neurotransmitters (HPLC)
  • Immunohistochemistry and microscopy
  • Small animal MRI analysis

CV

Since 2019
Lecture qualification (venia legendi), Clinical Neuroscience

Since 2017
Research Group leader and Provisional Head Section Neurobiology of Psychiatric Disorders, Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, TU Dresden

2015–2016
Research Assistant Experimental Psychiatry, TU Dresden

2012–2015
Postdoctoral Researcher Systems Neuroscience, TU Dresden

2010–2011
Swedish Research Council Research Fellow, Yale University, New Haven, USA

2010
Ph.D. in Neuroscience, Uppsala University, Sweden

2004
Diploma Biochemistry, University Leipzig

Selected Publications

Meyerolbersleben L, Winter C, Bernhardt N
Dissociation of wanting and liking in the sucrose preference test in dopamine transporter overexpressing rats.
Behav Brain Res, 378:112244 (2020)

Hadar R, Winter R, Edemann-Callesen H, Wieske F, Habelt B, Khadka N, Felgel-Farnholz V, Barroeta-Hlusicka E, Reis J, Tatarau CA, Funke K, Fritsch B, Bernhardt N, et al.
Prevention of schizophrenia deficits via non-invasive adolescent frontal cortex stimulation in rats.
Mol Psychiatry, 25(4), 896–905 (2020)

Bernhardt N, Obst E, Nebe S, Pooseh S, Wurst FM, Weinmann W, Smolka MN, Zimmermann US
Acute alcohol effects on impulsive choice in adolescents.
J Psychopharmacol, 33(3):316–325 (2019)

Bernhardt N, Lieser MK, Hlusicka E-B, Habelt B, Wieske F, Edemann-Callesen H, Garthe A, Winter C
Learning deficits in rats overexpressing the dopamine transporter.
Sci Rep, 8(1):14173 (2018)

Edemann-Callesen H, Habelt B, Wieske F, Jackson M, Khadka N, Mattei D, Bernhardt N, et al.
Non-invasive modulation reduces repetitive behavior in a rat model through the sensorimotor cortico-striatal circuit.
Transl Psychiatry 8(1):11. (2018)