The School of Neuroscience at Virginia Tech will host its inaugural James and Lillian Gay Distinguished Lecture Series on March 19, with speaker Eric J. Nestler, director of the Friedman Brain Institute at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, speaking.

Nestler, who holds the title of Nash Family Professor of Neuroscience, will speak about novel insights and treatments of depression. The talk will take place 7:30 p.m. Holtzman Alumni Center Assembly Hall. It will be preceded by a public reception at 6 p.m., also at Holtzman. Both reception and talk are free and open to the publicSeating is limited in the main auditorium, but overflow seating will be available.

“Dr. Nestler is a leader in the fields of addiction and depression. His work is revolutionizing our understanding of the causes of these disorders and focuses on the development of new treatments,” said Georgia Hodes, an assistant professor in the School of Neuroscience, part of the Virginia Tech College of Science. Before coming to Virginia Tech, Hodes completed post-doctoral work at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, where she collaborated with Nestler. “Dr. Nestler recently finished his tenure as the president of the Society for Neuroscience, the largest organization of neuroscientists in the world.”

In his talk, Nestler will discuss research involving molecular signatures of depression. “We are exploring the molecular basis of defeat-induced behavioral pathology, antidepressant action, and resilience by analyzing genome-wide changes in gene expression and epigenetic modifications,” he said. 

The work to be discussed focuses on the nucleus accumbens and pre-frontal cortex, brain regions involved in reward circuitry and implicated in aspects of depression and addiction. Nestler said the work is providing new insight into the molecular mechanisms underlying depression and other stress-related disorders. The findings suggest novel leads for the development of new antidepressant treatments.

“Our findings on resilience suggest the novel approach of developing medications that promote resilience and not just those that oppose the deleterious effects of stress,” Nestler added.

This is the first James and Lillian Gay Distinguished Lecture for the School of Neuroscience.

A neurologist, James R. Gay earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Virginia Tech in 1935. His career included leading the neurological surgery unit at the Lovelace Clinic in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and serving as assistant dean for administration at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine. He organized the New Mexico Accident Investigation Program, was director of the New Mexico Regional Medical Program, and retired as an associate vice president from the University of Tennessee Center for the Health Sciences in Memphis.

Gay died in 2015 and was posthumously inducted into the college’s Hall of Distinction in 2016.

Support by his estate for neuroscience research and education at Virginia Tech is strong. Funds from the estate have supported the School of Neuroscience’s first Summer Research Program, which provided 18 Virginia Tech undergraduate students with 10 weeks of “hands-on, minds-on” research experience with faculty. Registration for the second session for 2018 is underway now.

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