The Psychoneuroendocrinology (PNE) Lab at UCSF seeks to understand the causes of serious mental illnesses such as major depressive disorder, to assist in the development of better treatments and prediction methods (i.e. ways to predict things like the development of depression, response to specific treatments, episode onset, and symptom severity). Our research team includes experts in psychopharmacology, clinical psychology, biochemistry, neurobiology, genetics, neuroimaging, and immunology, with a unifying theme of investigating how stress provokes or worsens mental illnesses. A major focus of our research is the effects of major depression on overall health and well-being. Individuals with major depression are at increased risk of developing serious health problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, dementia, obesity, and osteoporosis. The reasons for this increased risk are unknown but new data suggests that depression may accelerate the body’s natural aging process, which increases the risk of developing diseases that normally occur later in life; it is not yet known whether treating depression lessens this risk, but this question is among the topics that our research explores. 

Why We Care

Mental illnesses are among the most widespread, costly and incapacitating of all illnesses. Yet, very few truly new or substantially more effective treatments have been developed in the past four decades. This impasse is due to the lack of new “models” of mental illness, i.e. new ways of understanding how mental illnesses develop and the specific interventions needed to address them. Another problem is that, while many current treatments are effective for some individuals, no treatment is effective for all individuals with the same diagnosis. Our working assumption is that different individuals, even those with the same diagnosis, may have different underlying causes for being ill. By examining new models of illness, we hope to pinpoint new treatments that can move beyond the current impasse.