As a neuropsychopharmacologist and assistant professor of biology, Pothitos “Takis” Pitychoutis is interested in how drugs affect the brain and behavior.

Pitychoutis’ lab identified a novel calcium-handling protein in the brain that could play a role in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), as well as in autism and schizophrenia. 

“This is an exciting, discovery-based project since virtually nothing is known about the function of this calcium-handling protein in the brain,” Pitychoutis said. “Our research will deepen our understanding on the molecular mechanisms implicated in the neurobiology of ADHD.”

Using a University of Dayton STEM Catalyst grant, Pitychoutis’ team first engineered a cutting-edge genetic mouse model that lacks the calcium-handling protein in specific regions of the brain. An additional $148,077 grant from the National Institutes of Health will be used to assess how the loss of this gene may lead to ADHD-like pathology.

“Preliminary data indicates the protein is selectively expressed in a critical brain region that influences vital neurobiological processes including attention and the generation of sleep rhythms,” Pitychoutis explained. “Based on initial research, the loss of this protein’s function results in hyperactivity and cognitive defects in mice.”

Pitychoutis’ work could lead to the discovery of safer and more effective drug therapies to prevent and treat ADHD and other brain disorders.

“If we discover how our brain works, then we have unlocked one of the biggest mysteries in life,” he said.

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Joey Saurine, a senior biochemistry major,received a Goldwater Scholarship one of the nation’s top awards for undergraduate STEM students for his work in his work in Pitychoutis’ lab. Saurine is the University of Dayton’s fifth Goldwater Scholar, the third from the Department of Biology and the second from Pitychoutis’ research group.