McLean Hospital 115 Mill Street Belmont, MA 02478
Deborah L. Levy, PhD, has a national and international reputation in the area of psychotic disorders, especially schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. The primary focus of her research is identifying risk genes and understanding their biological actions. Dr. Levy has been a clinical and research psychologist on the staff at McLean since 1991, and has served on the editorial board of various journals and on NIMH grant review panels.
Dr. Levy has received research support from the National Institute of Mental Health, the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation (BBRF), the Sidney R. Baer, Jr. Foundation, the Ellison Foundation and other private donors. She is the recipient of the Karl Menninger Scientific Day Award from the Alumni Association of the Menninger School of Psychiatry, the Valerie Schoenfeld Award from Mental Health Association in Suffolk County, New York, and the Philip S. Holzman Memorial Investigator Award from the BBRF.
Dr. Levy continues the long tradition of collaboration that has distinguished the Psychology Research Laboratory since the late Dr. Philip S. Holzman founded the program in 1977. Breakthrough research into the genetic causes of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and autism is yielding invaluable clues about the biological mechanisms underlying these illnesses. The same mutations seem to be involved in all of these disorders and appear to be risk factors.
Dr. Levy and her group have discovered an unusually high rate of certain kinds of rare genetic mutations in people with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Since these mutations can reveal specific disease mechanisms, they can also suggest treatments that target those mechanisms. Gene discovery is essential for identifying the genetic causes of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and autism, and for the development of treatments that target the biological effects of specific genetic mutations. Identifying a new mutation is only the first step in the process of understanding the biological mechanisms responsible for the mutation’s deleterious effects. This process is critical for translating mutation discovery into treatments that target the effects of mutations.
The lab recently carried out the first proof of principle clinical trial in which they tailored a treatment to a specific mutation. The treatment resulted in clinical improvements, which has important implications for other individuals who have the same mutation or similar mutations that impact the same biological processes.
Dr. Levy is in the privileged position of collaborating with scientists at McLean and elsewhere, both to discover new mutations and to follow up on their meaning. Her work would not be possible without the collaboration not only of many other investigators but also of the many patients and families who have been vital to the success of the research.
For example, Uwe Rudolph at McLean Hospital is making mice with the same mutations Dr. Levy’s lab identified in patients, which makes it possible for her group to compare the efficacy of various treatments in humans and mice.
Other colleagues at McLean are collaborating in imaging and clinical studies of select populations of mutation carriers and their family members.
Kristen Brennand at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine is converting skin cells from individuals with specific mutations into neurons and astrocytes, allowing Dr. Levy to compare in vivo and in vitro effects of the same experimental manipulations.
James Lupski at Baylor College of Medicine is sequencing the DNA from patients with mutations that occur across different clinical disorders. Dr. Levy and her staff now attempt to characterize the molecular genetic basis for the same or similar mutations with different clinical manifestations.
Levy DL, Coleman MJ, Sung H, Ji F, Matthysse S, Mendell NR, Titone D. The genetic basis of thought disorder and language and communication disturbances in schizophrenia. Journal of Neurolinguistics 2010;23:176-192.
Malhotra D, McCarthy S, Michaelson JJ, Vacic V, Burdick KE, Yoon S, Cichon S, Corvin A, Gary S, Gershon ES, Gill M, Karayiorgou M, Kelsoe JR, Krastoshevsky O, Krause V, Leibenluft E, Levy DL, Makarov V, Bhandari A, Malhotra AK, McMahon FJ, Nothen MM, Potash JB, Rietschel M, Schulze TG, Sebat, J. High frequencies of de novo CNVs in bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Neuron 2011;72:951-963.
Morgan CJ, Coleman MJ, Ulgen A, Boling L, Cole JO, Johnson FV, Lerbinger J, Bodkin JA, Holzman PS, Levy DL. Thought disorder in schizophrenia and bipolar disorder probands, their relatives, and non-psychiatric controls. Schizophrenia Bulletin. 2017;43:523-535.
Belmont campus - Centre Building, Room G16