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Lab Overview

The Sah laboratory is interested in understanding mechanisms that promote vulnerability to psychiatric disorders. We are focusing on threat and fear associated conditions such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and panic disorder (PD). The prevalence of these disorders is on the rise due to an increase in life traumas ranging from combat to COVID.

As humans, we consistently encounter traumatic experiences, some of which may signal a threat to survival. Fear, a normal adaptive response to threat can become maladaptive in certain individuals resulting in abnormal threat detection and persistent fear memories promoting symptoms of panic and PTSD. We are interested in finding out “what” promotes abnormal fear regulation and “why” some individuals have deficits in processing fear. We use translationally relevant rodent models and translational approaches aligned with the National Institute of Mental Health RDoC criteria (https://www.nimh.nih.gov/research/research-funded-by-nimh/rdoc/about-rdoc). Although our research is fear-centered, we also investigate stress, anxiety, learning-memory and depression relevant behaviors in our models.

In the past several years the Sah group has made several seminal discoveries on novel target proteins and mechanisms that signal threat sensing and generation of fear. We established the relevance of stress resiliency neuropeptides in PTSD as well as an unprecedented role of immune signaling in panic genesis. Over the years, our lab focus has moved from being “brain-centric” to appreciating the “body and the brain”. A primary interest centers on understanding how peripheral signals can regulate threat responding and fear. As an example, we are trying to understand how chronic inflammation associated with asthma can regulate fear processing to other traumatic experiences. We are also exploring specialized brain areas located near the ventricles in body-to-brain signaling of threat and fear generation.

The immediate goals for these projects are to a) understand fear genesis to both external triggers as well as homeostatic “within the body” signals, b) identify novel targets that regulate fear learning and memory of relevance to PTSD and PD, and c) understand pre-trauma predisposition factors that promote susceptibility to psychiatric illness. The long-term goal is to identify novel and effective therapeutic targets and predictive biomarkers for PTSD and PD.

If you are interested in our research, please contact us (sahr@uc.edu). We welcome motivated, curious, and hard-working individuals in our group!


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Department of
Pharmacology and Systems Physiology

College of Medicine
231 Albert Sabin Way
Cincinnati, OH 45267-0575