Serotonin is a neurotransmitter playing a crucial in the onset and treatment of neuropsychiatric disorders. Most of the drugs
currently used in psychiatry target serotonin (neuro)transmission. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that the efficacy
of these drugs is suboptimal. As a result, the prevalence and burden of these disorders remain high. A new wave of research
revealed that serotonin plays important role in neurodevelopment. Changes in serotonin levels lead to changes in
developmental processes with consequences for the serotonin system and beyond. This makes it plausible that the origins
of these disorders do not per se lie in disturbed serotonin neurotransmission, but rather in serotonin-mediated
neurodevelopmental changes. This would require a radical different view on disease burden reduction. We hypothesize that
it are the serotonin-mediated non-serotonergic downstream changes in neurodevelopment that are at the basis of serotoninrelated
neuropsychiatric disorders. SEROTONIN and BEYOND will establish an interdisciplinary, intersectoral and
international scientific network to test this hypothesis. It will enable paradigm shifts in the understanding of vulnerability to
neuropsychiatric disorders, and provide groundwork for critical windows in development for future interventions. To achieve
these goals, top-class academic and industrial scientists will train Early Stage Researchers (ESRs) in the full spectrum of
state-of-the-art neuroscientific technical approaches. We will also equip these ESRs with translational and entrepreneurial
thinking by providing intersectoral and transferable skills training. In summary, we will train a new generation of ESRs in the
integrated field of serotonin, neurodevelopment and psychiatry to deliver 15 excellent young researchers who are optimally
prepared for their future academic and industrial careers.
Research into serotonin and its role in treatment
The €4 mln EU project SEROTONIN and BEYOND will start in 2021
When a patient is treated for psychiatric symptoms, they are often given drugs that affect brain serotonin levels. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter and critically involved in the communication between nerve cells in the brain. An important problem with these ‘serotonergic’ drugs is that patients don’t always respond to them.
In addition to being a neurotransmitter, serotonin has a major influence on brain development. Recent discoveries in brain research indicate that serotonin-mediated changes in brain development play an important role in the cause of psychiatric disorders. However, these changes in brain development are not the target of current drug treatments, and this may explain why they are not as effective as we want them to be.
The scope of the SEROTONIN and BEYOND project
This project aims to train the next generation of serotonin researchers and deliver new fundamental insights in how early life changes in serotonin caused by genetic or environmental factors alter brain development and thereby contribute to the cause of serotonergic psychiatric disorders.
These new insights have the potential to reveal novel targets for future therapies, as well as the developmental windows in which such interventions would be most effective.
A European network for new researchers
This multi-disciplinary project, led by prof Judith Homberg of Translational Neuroscience at Radboudumc, brings together researchers from leading European universities and institutes to create a network with world-leading expertise in serotonin research and training. Together, these partners will train fifteen talented PhD-students to lead research in serotonin, neural development and psychiatry in the years ahead.