Our Research Focus

Cowan lab researcher and projects

The Cowan Lab explores the genes and molecular mechanisms that control proper brain wiring during development, and they seek to understand the roles of these molecules in the young and adult brain under pathological conditions, such as autism, intellectual disability, drug addiction, and depression. The lab utilizes a broad array of experimental approaches to gain a better understanding about the underlying regulation, or dysregulation, of typical brain function, and they take an integrated, multidisciplinary approach to address these important topics for human mental health.

Drug Addiction

The lab employs a range of molecular, genetic and behavioral techniques to understand how abused substances hijack brain function to promote addiction-related behaviors. Through identification of new molecules involved in addiction, we ultimately seek to develop these molecules as potential therapeutics for treating drug addiction. The lab studies multiple molecules that are recruited by illicit drug use and participate in maladaptive brain changes that associate with addiction-related behaviors. Ongoing studies seek to identify the cellular mechanisms by which these identified molecules influence persistent drug taking and relapse.

Neurodevelopmental Disorders

The Cowan Lab has uncovered key brain development roles for several genes linked to risk for neurodevelopmental disorders, including autism, intellectual disability and schizophrenia. These molecules appear to work together during typical brain development to control the proper establishment of excitatory and inhibitory connections in the brain. Genetic abnormalities in these genes in humans often produce intellectual disability and autism-associated symptoms, and the lab observes similar symptoms in mice engineered to have disruptions in these same genes. By understanding the genetic and molecular underpinnings of autism spectrum disorders, the lab hopes to identify new therapeutic targets for treatment of autism, intellectual disability and related neurodevelopmental disorders in humans.