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Christina Barr, Ph.D.

Section of Comparative Behavioral Genomics

Laboratory of Neurogenetics
Room 3S-32
5625 Fishers Lane MSC9412
Bethesda MD 20892
Office: 301-496-8127
Lab: 301-496-8127

Christina Barr, V.M.D., Ph.D. is acting chief for the Section of Comparative Behavioral Genomics. Her research focuses on identification of functional genetic variants that influence reward sensitivity and stress reactivity, with the idea that, although such variants may predispose modern humans to psychopathology, they likely confer advantage in certain environmental contexts. Dr. Barr's studies have been shown to have translational value for learning how genetic factors moderate addiction vulnerability and treatment response in modern humans. Dr. Barr is considered to be an expert in the areas of primate behavior and genetics, stress biology, and GxE interactions. She has been sought to contribute numerous expert reviews and book chapters covering the genetics of stress reactivity and alcohol consumption in nonhuman primates and has published her work in high-impact factor journals, such as Archives of General Psychiatry, New England Journal of Medicine, and PNAS.

Adaptations to unpredictable or stressful environmental conditions can occur at both the species and the individual levels. The focus of the Section of Comparative Behavioral Genomics is the examination of intra- and inter-specific variation in genomic sequence and epigenetic effects as they relate to variation in behavioral traits that are known risk factors for the alcohol use disorders.

In certain instances, genetic variants that are functionally similar or orthologous to those that moderate risk for human psychiatric disorders are maintained across primate species. We have identified several examples of this phenomenon in rhesus macaques and have studied them in order to model how genetic variation moderates risk for developing psychopathology. Some of these studies have suggested there to be convergent evolution or allelic variants being maintained by selection in both species. We have also been searching for spontaneous genetic variation that occurs across species, including those species that have been subject to intense artificial selection, in order to find signatures for selection on behavior and to “replicate” our findings in primates. Of relevance to the NIAAA mission, these findings reinforce the potential for comparative behavioral genomics studies to demonstrate how the prevalence of human genetic variants that are linked to psychiatric disorders, including the addictions, may be rooted in the fact that such variants contribute to adaptive or favorable traits in the absence of environmental stressors or alcohol.

Our section partners with both intramural and extramural scientists to obtain samples from a variety of species in order to identify functional genetic variation that can be functionally analyzed and determined to be candidates for predicting individual differences in addiction-related behaviors. We then perform genetic or epigenetic studies in order to home in on the factors that are reliably predictive of functional and behavioral differences. Through the use of samples and behavior datasets that were previously collected through the intramural program, we are able to also perform more refined molecular studies and multi-tiered genotype-phenotype correlations in order to investigate the substrates through which G x E interactions might contribute to risk for alcohol use disorders.

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  • 1) Driscoll CA, Barr CS (2016)
  • Studying longitudinal trajectories in animal models of psychiatric illness and their translation to the human condition
  • Neurosci Res, 102, 67-77
  • 2) Driscoll CA, Lindell SG, Schwandt ML, Suomi SJ, Higley JD, Heilig M, Barr CS (2016)
  • OPRM1 genotype interacts with serotonin system dysfunction to predict alcohol-heightened aggression in primates
  • Addict Biol
  • 3) Lindell SG, Yuan Q, Zhou Z, Goldman D, Thompson RC, Lopez JF, Suomi SJ, Higley JD, Barr CS (2012)
  • The serotonin transporter gene is a substrate for age and stress dependent epigenetic regulation in rhesus macaque brain: potential roles in genetic selection and gene × environment interactions
  • Dev Psychopathol, 24(4), 1391-400
  • 4) Schwandt ML, Lindell SG, Higley JD, Suomi SJ, Heilig M, Barr CS (2011)
  • OPRM1 gene variation influences hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis function in response to a variety of stressors in rhesus macaques
  • Psychoneuroendocrinology, 36(9), 1303-11
  • 5) Barr CS, Dvoskin RL, Gupte M, Sommer W, Sun H, Schwandt ML, Lindell SG, Kasckow JW, Suomi SJ, Goldman D, Higley JD, Heilig M (2009)
  • Functional CRH variation increases stress-induced alcohol consumption in primates
  • Proc Natl Acad Sci U S , 106(34), 14593-8
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