Dr. Devanand Manoli: Improving Social Function in Mental Illness

By investigating how the ability to form social attachments can go awry in animal models, Dr. "Dev" Manoli aims to help people with psychiatric illness recover by improving their capacity to build healthy relationships.

Social attachment, or “bonding”, appears at every level of human society and interaction, and forms the basis for the relationships that sustain us as human beings.  Severe issues with social attachment arise in numerous psychiatric illnesses such as schizophrenia and autism.  These challenges may cause individuals afflicted to withdraw socially, which can cause them more suffering, while continuing to interact with others in ways that are not stressful may contribute to their healing and improve their illness.  Working to understand how attachments are regulated in the brain can create more opportunities for these people to return to wellness. Dr. Devanand “Dev” Manoli, One Mind Institute Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at USCF, is conducting research on the formation of attachments and how the process could go awry, with the goal of improving our population’s social and mental health.

Studying Social Impairments in Animals Socially Like Humans

Oxytocin and vasopressin are hormones involved in human behaviors associated with relationships and bonding. Because a rodent species called the prairie vole uses similar hormonal, and presumably neural, mechanisms in human-like pair bonding behaviors, this species forms an ideal candidate to serve as a model for the neurobiological study of human social attachment.  However, voles have not been receptive to conventional molecular genetic engineering strategies, which has created challenges in using voles to examine the genetics and neurobiology that underlie attachment, or how it is disrupted in the context of mental illness.  Because of this, Dr. Manoli and his team have developed vole-specific molecular genetic tools to create a system that will allow for in-depth studies into mechanisms underlying social attachment in prairie voles.

Understanding What Causes Social Attachment Challenges

In their vole studies, Dr. Manoli and his team are already on the path to a better understanding of social function.  Among his team’s most exciting innovations has been the generation of voles containing gene mutations found in humans with autism and schizophrenia, and which are relevant to social behavior.  With these various vole models, they can study how changes in these genes or environmental stresses may lead to changes in a variety of vole social behaviors, aiming to build our understanding of the problems that people with various psychiatric disorders face. So far, in testing these assessments, they have observed that bonding decreases baseline anxiety in voles and that separation causes anxiety—indicating that their vole models approximate human social emotional response to a useful degree.  Dr. Manoli’s team, using techniques developed by colleagues at UCSF, have begun to map the regions of the vole brain that are activated during attachment-related behaviors.  Finally, Dr. Manoli’s team has begun to formulate research methods to investigate the disruptions to the development and function of the nervous system that are caused by these mutations and that underlie the behavior changes they observe.  By understanding the problems that arise from these mutations, they can gain a better understanding of the mutation specific contributions to the social interaction challenges caused by brain illness.

Through his complex work, Dr. Dev Manoli has begun to break through some of the underlying problems that lead to social attachment deficits found in individuals with psychiatric disorders. Our hopes are with him as he seeks a basis to re-enable people with these disorders to build more satisfying, meaningful relationships.

"When I heard of the groundbreaking work the Staglins were doing through their organization One Mind Institute, such as research into preventing schizophrenia from ever occurring, I hoped to meet them. When I did I was amazed by their non-stop energy and complete devotion to the cause. But most of all, I was moved by their sincere desire to share ideas with people from all backgrounds and fields. As I continue to create films to inspire empathy for those with mental illness, I remain inspired by the Staglins and what One Mind Institute has done to transform mental health research and improve lives. "
"The support of One Mind Institute has been absolutely essential to all of the psychosis prediction and prevention efforts of CAPPS and the NAPLS. On behalf of the patients and families who have received high quality clinical services in our program regardless of their ability to pay, and on behalf of the numerous dedicated members of our research and clinical treatment teams, I am so incredibly grateful for One Mind Institute’s generous contributions. On a personal note, it is very inspiring to see the huge gains made for mental health research and awareness over the past several years, which have been sparked in large part by the efforts of the Staglin family."
"As a family member of someone living with schizoaffective disorder, I am proud to support One Mind Institute’s profoundly important work. One Mind Institute allows those touched in some way by psychiatric illness to take action and work toward solutions by helping to spur early stage research. One Mind Institute’s audacious mission to find a cure for psychiatric illness in one generation is what it will take to make meaningful progress, and holds the promise of changing millions of lives around the globe. "
"Having struggled with schizophrenia since a young woman, I am deeply grateful for what One Mind Institute does. One Mind Institute’s unwavering commitment to support research is an inspiration to those of us who long for the day when a cure for serious mental illness is found. I think of One Mind Institute as a good friend and kindly mentor who has taken up my cause and fights for my mental health each and every day."
"One Mind Institute has distinguished itself as a leader in the fight against brain disease. One Mind Institute’s vision of a world without mental illness seems beyond reach only to those who have not seen firsthand the intensity of One Mind Institute’s dedication and focus. These folks are not giving up until they’ve won. The Saks Institute is delighted to be One Mind Institute’s partner in the fight."
"One Mind Institute, thank you again for funding CAPPS/ABBRC. Our daughter, Anna, participated in the program 2012-2013 and just received her final assessment. While this research helps others, know how much we appreciated participating with such genuinely dedicated people (very well selected to work with adolescents). It was very helpful for us as well, and provides us with even more hope. We're so impressed with the program."
"One Mind Institute is an organization equal parts compassion and science. A critical component of their work is advocacy and voice for millions of people who live with mental illnesses. Equally important is the incredible efforts they provide to further research in learning more about the brain and identifying effective treatments for brain diseases. One Mind Institute is a leader in the field of mental illness!"
"From the moment I found One Mind Institute and met the amazing Staglin family I knew that my advocacy would grow by leaps and bounds. Through their dedication and commitment I found a community of brilliant scientists, passionate philanthropists, music lovers and a new mental health family to call my own. I cherish the work One Mind Institute does every day to advance the research on brain disorders, to increase the awareness around mental illness and mental health and to create a community of love and support for advocates everywhere. I would not be the person I am today without the inspiration One Mind Institute has provided me."

Stay Connected

Sign up and receive e-newsletters and more

One Mind Institute is a 501(c)3 nonprofit, Tax ID # 68-0359707

 

X