Mount Sinai Neurobiologist Selected as Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator

Mount Sinai

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) has selected Ian Maze, PhD, Associate Professor of Neuroscience, and Pharmacological Sciences, at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, as an HHMI Investigator. This highly competitive appointment is reserved for outstanding researchers who are known for their scientific discoveries, innovation, and ability to push the bounds of knowledge in biomedical research.

Dr. Maze is a neurobiologist focused on delineating the molecular and biochemical mechanisms of neuroepigenetic plasticity, the adaptive or maladaptive (in the case of disease) changes in the underlying biochemical mechanisms that control whether genes are turned on or off within a given cell-type in the brain. Such plasticity is important for allowing brain cells to appropriately respond to changing environments, which is critical for proper neurodevelopment and which can cause disease when there is inappropriate tuning of gene expression. His research program integrates cutting-edge biochemical, chemical biology, and genomics approaches with functional neurobiological phenotyping to better understand the impact of chromatin regulatory processes that contribute to neural development, plasticity and disease.

“Dr. Maze embodies the culture of innovation, the passion for pushing the boundaries of knowledge, and the courage to take risks and embrace the unknown that we pride ourselves on here at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai,” said Dennis S. Charney, MD, Anne and Joel Ehrenkranz Dean of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and President for Academic Affairs of the Mount Sinai Health System. “We are proud and so pleased that HHMI has selected him as one of their newest HHMI Investigators and look forward to the many important contributions he is sure to continue to make in the field of neuroscience.”

Unlike most awards that fund projects, the HHMI Investigator program supports approximately 250 individual researchers who are known for their scientific discoveries and innovation. HHMI investigators receive generous funding over the initial seven-year appointment, which may be renewed for additional terms. In addition to funding an investigator’s full salary, benefits, and research budget, the institute covers other expenses, including research space and the purchase of critical equipment. This long-term, flexible funding gives investigators the freedom to explore and even change direction in their research endeavors.

“Dr. Maze is an outstanding scientist who has made significant contributions to the field of neuroscience and epigenetics in his career already,” said Eric J. Nestler, MD, PhD, Dean for Academic and Scientific Affairs, Nash Family Professor of Neuroscience, and Director of The Friedman Brain Institute at Mount Sinai. “We are thrilled that HHMI has recognized his excellence and look forward to seeing what scientific discoveries will come from the flexibility, freedom, and connectivity this incredible honor will afford him, thereby benefitting the Mount Sinai neuroscience community and beyond. The fact that Dr. Maze was a graduate student in my laboratory well over a decade ago makes me especially happy for him on this great honor.”

A Spotlight on Dr. Maze’s Game-ChangingResearch:

It is known that serotonin and dopamine govern our moods, our motivations, and our movements, with these neurotransmitters reining in or spurring on the signals that race through the brain’s neural circuits.

Dr. Maze is more interested in what else they are doing in the brain. “What if this is only half the story?” he asks. Inside neurons, Dr. Maze has found something surprising: serotonin and dopamine clinging to DNA-packaging proteins called histones. There, the tag-along molecules act as regulatory marks that influence which genes get switched on.

Scientists knew that cells can regulate gene activity by decorating the genome with certain chemicals, but no one knew that these chemicals included serotonin and dopamine. Dr. Maze’s findings on serotonin and dopamine, published in the journals Nature and Science, respectively, suggest that these chemical marks may have implications for brain function and psychiatric health. For example, his team has discovered that they may play a role in driving drug addiction.

His lab has also reported that some of the chemical relatives of serotonin and dopamine can also attach themselves to histones. He is now studying this family of chemicals, called monoamines, to understand how, when, and where they link up with histones, as well as how the cell’s machinery “reads” them once they are in position.

Dr. Maze’s team is also looking beyond the chemical marks’ unexpected impact on gene regulation to investigate what happens when they glom on to other proteins in the brain.

“We are excited to be at the forefront of this burgeoning field,” says Dr. Maze. “The HHMI appointment will make it possible for me and my team to develop new tools and methods that make it possible to ask and answer these previously unapproached questions. I am extremely grateful and excited to join the HHMI team and to continue to mentor and train the next generation of young scientists in my field.”

“Dr. Maze is a highly innovative scientist and his research will undoubtedly yield new insights into the complex gene regulatory processes that regulate brain function. His work will also foster cutting-edge translational science that will, hopefully, lead to new medications for the treatment of brain disorders. We are delighted that HHMI has recognized his exceptional talent,” says Paul Kenny, PhD, Chair of the Department of Neuroscience at Icahn Mount Sinai. “This prestigious recognition highlights one of our stars and underscores the world-class neuroscience community here at Mount Sinai.”

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