Assistant Professor of Neurobiology
B. Pharm., Philipps-University, Marburg, Germany
M.Sc., Neuroscience, Martin-Luther-University, Halle, Germany
Ph.D., Neuroscience, Philipps-University, School of Medicine, Marburg, Germany
Project: How can chronic stress change neural circuits and lead to depression?
Stephan Lammel has a longstanding interest in medicine, and began training as a pharmacist with the intention of taking over his family’s business. During his pharmacy residency, he grew frustrated with the limitations and side effects of currently available medications—particularly for neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and schizophrenia. Then he met a researcher, Jochen Roeper, who was studying how dopamine neurons degenerate in Parkinson’s disease.
Lammel was excited by the opportunity to explore the underlying neurobiology of the dopamine system, and to make discoveries that could guide more effective therapeutic approaches. He joined Roeper’s lab as a master’s student, and later pursued a Ph.D. His work helped to reveal diversity in the properties of dopamine-containing neurons. As a postdoctoral scholar in Robert Malenka’s lab at Stanford University, Lammel continued investigating dopamine neurons, including neural circuits involved in reward and motivation.
With support from the Rita Allen Foundation, Lammel and his team will apply new technologies to examine the mechanisms by which chronic stress can lead to depression. Better knowledge of these mechanisms is crucial to treating depression, he says, as today’s outdated therapies are effective for less than half of patients, and have many undesirable side effects. Lammel’s research group will follow changes in neural activity in freely moving animals over time, using methods such as optogenetics and in vivo calcium imaging to visualize changes in activity among specific populations of neurons. “If we understand the circuits in which these neurons are embedded, we can manipulate them in a more specific way and try to reverse some of the pathological changes in these circuits”, he explains. “Ultimately, we hope these manipulations can also reverse some of the symptoms of depression.”