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SYMPOSIUM 3: The Genetic Revolution

H. Robert Horvitz, Eric Lander, Christopher A. Walsh, Pamela Sklar, Catherine Dulac


Introduction from Chair - H. Robert Horvitz, PhD
Genes provide the blueprint for how the brain develops and define the components the brain uses to function. New technologies in both experimental biology and computation are making striking advances possible in the  understanding of when, where and how genes act and in how gene dysfunction can lead to disease. In this session, each speaker will present a brief “moonshot” vision for how investment today in studies of the genetics of the brain might revolutionize our understanding of the brain and our ability to treat brain disorders.

From Genes to Therapeutics - Eric Lander, PhD

Learning from Mendelian Disorders: Genes and Cognition - Christopher A. Walsh, MD, PhD
How do cognitive abilities map onto genes? How does development produce a brain capable of creativity and our sense of identity? Answers to these questions must lie in genes that regulate the development and function of the human brain. Mutations in key brain genes cause some forms of intellectual disability, epilepsy, cerebral palsy, and autism. Recent examples from animal studies suggest that some genetic brain disorders can be treated even after brain development is seemingly complete.

Confronting Complexity: The Genetics of Schizophrenia - Pamela Sklar, MD, PhD
Understanding the causes of schizophrenia and other serious psychotic diseases such as bipolar disorder poses a series of special challenges. Over the last few years, application of modern genomics technologies to large clinical samples has lead to a series of key findings. Soon, data from genome sequencing will provide valuable information about other types of risks. Together this data will be the building blocks for understanding the overall genetic  architecture: the number, frequency, strength of effects, and their interactions of the risk alleles for these disorders. These building blocks coupled with new methods in therapeutics can lead us into a new future for psychiatric  disease.

The Epigenetic Frontier - Catherine Dulac, PhD
The characteristics of epigenetic control, including the potential for long-lasting, stable effects on gene expression that outlive an initial transient signal, could be of singular importance for brain function, which is subject to changes with short- to long-lasting influence on its activity and connectivity. Persistent changes in chromatin structure are thought to contribute to mechanisms of epigenetic inheritance. Recent advances in chromatin biology offer new avenues to investigate regulatory mechanisms underlying long-lasting changes in neurons, with direct implications for the study of brain function, behavior and diseases.


H. Robert Horvitz is a founding member of the McGovern Institute and the David Koch Professor in the Department of Biology, and an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. He has been a faculty member at MIT's Department of Biolgy since 1978 and is a member of the National Academy of Sciences. In 2002 he shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discovering and characterizing the genes controlling cell death in the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans.

Eric Lander is Director at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard.

Christopher A. Walsh is the Chief in the Division of Genetics at Children's Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School.

Pamela Sklar is Chief in the Division of Psychiatric Genomics at Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

Catherine Dulac is the Chair of the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology at Harvard University and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.


A one-on-one interview with H. Robert Horvitz can be found here.