Mathieu Wimmer

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The once controversial idea that parental experiences, such as stress or diet, can shape the physiology and behavior of their offspring via epigenetic mechanisms has become an active area of research. Dr. Mathieu Wimmer studies the influence of drug abuse in fathers (sires) on future generations. His research program combines animal models of drug addiction and memory formation with molecular biology techniques to investigate the impact of paternal drug taking on drug-related behaviors and memory formation in progeny. Dr. Wimmer is also interested in epigenetic remodeling events in the brain that underlie these inherited changes in behavior. Dr. Wimmer received his PhD from the University of Pennsylvania under the mentorship of Dr. Ted Abel. His postdoctoral training under the guidance of Dr. Chris Pierce at Penn focused on the transgenerational epigenetics of cocaine addiction. Dr. Wimmer’s research is funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Our lab combines animal models of addiction with molecular biological techniques to study epigenetic mechanisms underlying addiction susceptibility.

Drug addiction is a massive public health concern that inflicts extensive burdens on our economy and society.

Each year about 65 million individuals are exposed to opioids.

Of these, about 13 million misuse or abuse these drugs.

Why are some individuals more susceptible to abuse drugs? The interaction between genome (genetic makeup) and environment shapes the development of psychiatric diseases, including Substance Use Disorder. The etiology of addiction has a large genetic component and epidemiological studies suggest that Substance Use Disorder is heritable. The other side of that coin are epigenetic processes, which can be broadly defined as environmental influences on gene expression.

The emergence of epigenetic studies has provided a concrete mechanism for the long-held idea that psychiatric diseases are caused by complex interactions between environmental and genetic factors. The rapid explosion of publications on this topic over the past decade has brought new hope for identifying novel therapeutic targets and treatments for addiction.

Using multigenerational animal models to delineate epigenetic mechanisms underlying addiction vulnerability.

We have developed a multigenerational model to study the influence of drug exposure on future generations. Based on epidemiological data, our prediction was that the offspring of drug-exposed sires (fathers) would be more susceptible to develop addiction-like traits.

We are interested in two major questions:

  1. (1) How is the information passed on from fathers to their offspring? How can paternal drug taking alter the germline epigenome (sperm)? Which germline epigenetic reprogramming events are critical for shaping development toward addiction vulnerability in the next generation?
  2. (2) What has changed in the brain of the offspring produced by drug-treated fathers? What are the functionally relevant neuro-epigenetic processes that increase addiction-like behavior in the first generation progeny?

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