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ROBERT YOLKEN

The basic goal of my research is to characterize the role of infectious and inflammatory processes in complex psychiatric disease such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and autism. We also examine these processes in the context of gene-environmental interactions. The theoretical background of the studies can be found in the PowerPoint presentations (Schizophrenia and Other Diseases and Infections and Psychiatric Diseases.)

Our laboratory utilizes robotics and other types of automation to perform high throughput assays directed at these goals. The main assay we perform are microplate enzyme immunoassays for the measurement of IgG and IgM class antibodies directed at infectious agents. Target antigens include HSV-1, HSV-2, Cytomegalovirus, Epstein Barr Virus, Human Herpesvirus Type 6, Varicella Zoster Virus, Influenza A Virus, Influenza B Virus, and Toxoplasma gondii. Additional antibody assays may be performed for individual projects.

We also measure single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) using real time PCR instrumentation and Taqman probes. These assays focus on genes which control the immune response to infections.

Most of our studies are done in collaboration with other investigators who have treated patients and/or collected clinical and epidemiological data. The assays can be performed without cost to the investigators thanks to the generous support of the Stanley Medical Research Institute (www.stanleyresearch.org). We are happy to explore collaborations with investigators who have access to these materials and who want to collaborate on studies directed at the target diseases.

The principal collaborator and guiding force in all of these studies is Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, who first introduced me to the concept of infections and psychiatric diseases many years ago and who continues to support these studies enthusiastically. I also collaborate closely with Dr. Faith Dickerson, not only on the studies but also on raising children, caring for cats, and other aspects of domestic life.

Specific studies and principal collaborators are shown below.

Infections, genes and cognitive functioning in individuals with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. These studies involve the performance of antibody assays and SNP.
Principal collaborators: Dr. Faith Dickerson.
Other Investigators: Dr. John Boronow, Cassie Stallings, Sara Cole, Andrea Oragoni
The Sheppard Pratt Health System

The role of infections in the etiology of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder in the United States Military. This study involves the testing of banked serum samples before and after the onset of clinical symptoms.
Collaborators: Dr. David Niebuhr, Dr. David Cowen, Dr. Amy Milligan
Walter Reed Medical Research Center

Infections in recent onset schizophrenia and bipolar disorders. These studies involves he analysis of serum and cerebrospinal fluid samples from individuals with the recent onset of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. The goal of these studies is to identify infectious processes occurring around the time of the onset of symptoms.
Collaborators: Dr. Faith Dickerson, The Sheppard Pratt Health Systems
Dr. Marcus Leweke, University of Cologne
Dr. Markus Schwarz, University of Munich
Dr. Johannes Schroeder, University of Heidelberg
Dr. Hongbin Gu, University of North Carolina (samples from Bejing, China)

Collaborative Perinatal Study. This study involved the study of >50,000 mothers and their offspring who were enrolled in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. The goal of our current studies with this cohort is to identify biomarkers in the blood of samples collected from this cohort with the subsequent development of psychiatric disease in the offspring.
Collaborators include: Dr. Steven Buka, Harvard School of Public Health
Dr. Ty Cannon, University of California
Dr. William Eaton, Dr. Anne Duggan, Dr. Janet Hardy, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and Public Health

The role of antimicrobial treatment in psychiatric diseases. The goal of these studies is to determine the potential role of antiviral and antiparasitic medications as auxiliary treatments for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
Collaborators include: Dr. Faith Dickerson and Dr. John Boronow, Sheppard Pratt Health System

Neonatal filter paper studies. These studies involve the measurement of antibodies in filter paper blood samples obtained from neonates who go on to develop psychiatric diseases and controls.
Ongoing collaborators include: Dr. Preban Mortenson, Arhaus Denmark (Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder
Dr. Lisa Croen and Dr. Judy Grether, California Department of Public Health (Autism)

Endogenous Retroviruses. These are elements of the human genome arose from the insertion of retroviruses at different points in human evolution. A study of individuals with first episode schizophrenia indicated an increased rate of transcription of endogenous retroviruses in the cerebrospinal fluid and blood of cases as compared to controls. Ongoing studies are directed at characterizing the biology of this transcription and defining the role of these agents in psychiatric diseases.
Collaborators include: Dr. Håkan Karlsson, Karolinska Institute
Dr. Wolfgang Seifart, University of Mannheim
Dr. Johannes Schroeder, University of Heidelberg

Gene Expression in Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder. These studies examine gene expression in postmortem brain tissue and other cellular samples from cases and controls. The principal focus of these studies is to define the role of infections on gene expression.
Collaborators: Dr. Maree Webster, Stanley Medical Research Institute
Dr. Sabine Bahn, Cambridge University

 

STANLEY SUMMER SCHOLARS PROGRAM

Temporarily Suspended

The goal of the Stanley Summer Scholars Program of the Stanley Division of Developmental Neurovirology, Dept. Pediatrics, is to foster enthusiasm for the study of the etiology, pathology, immunology, prevention and treatment of serious psychiatric diseases such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. By offering students the opportunity to gain laboratory experience by working closely with a mentor from the Stanley Division, we hope to encourage the pursuit of careers in basic, translational or clinical research focusing on major mental illness. Research performed in the Stanley Division is interdisciplinary and projects are available in a number of fields including molecular biology, immunology, virology, parasitology, tissue culture, neuroscience and statistics. Program activities include weekly lectures by faculty & postdoctoral fellows describing different aspects of mental illness research, weekly lab meetings, attendance of Schizophrenia Rounds in the Department of Psychiatry and a poster/oral presentation by students at the end of the summer. Although preferred, no laboratory experience is required and training will be provided to qualified candidates.

The online application can be found at http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/graduateprograms/sip.cfm.

For further information please email the 2015 program coordinator at acusic@jhmi.edu.



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