UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Yingwei Mao, an assistant professor of biology at Penn State, has been honored with a NARSAD (National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression) Young Investigator Grant. The award provides support for the most promising young scientists conducting neurobiological research.
Mao's research focuses on how particular genetic defects play a role in the onset of mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, depression, autism and bipolar disorder. Recently, Mao and his colleagues pinpointed the specific neurological effects of deficits within a gene that is disrupted in schizophrenia -- the DISC1 gene. Mao's research identified that a faulty DISC1 gene interrupts division of neural stem cells in the hippocampus -- a process crucial to healthy brain development and maintenance. In Mao's study, mice with either a defective or absent DISC1 gene displayed behavioral abnormalities such as hyperactivity -- one of the symptoms of schizophrenia -- as well as other symptoms of mental disease such as depression. Mao and his colleagues also successfully restored normal neuronal growth to affected mice by treating them with a molecule that inhibits GSK3beta -- an enzyme normally regulated by DISC1. The treatment mimicked the effects of lithium, a medication frequently used in the treatment of bipolar disorder. Mao's research could provide a valuable tool in drug development for patients with mental illnesses.
In 2003, the University of Michigan School of Medicine honored Mao with a Thomas Baum Travel Award. In 2007, the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression awarded Mao a Young Investigator Award. Mao has published numerous papers in peer-reviewed journals such as Nature, the Journal of Cell Biology and Neuron. His research on the DISC1 gene was the cover story in the journal Cell in 2009, and he contributed a chapter to the Encyclopedia of Neuroscience. He has presented abstracts and has given invited talks in many meetings and at research institutions in the United States and abroad. Mao's memberships in professional societies include the Society for Neuroscience and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Mao holds two patents related to his discovery of the effects of the DISC1 gene.
Before joining the Eberly College of Science faculty at Penn State in 2011, Mao was a research fellow in the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Mao received a master's degree in the Department of Molecular Biology at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey in 2002. In 2005, he received a doctoral degree from the University of Michigan.