Erik S. Carlson, MD, PhD

Personal Statement

I am a basic neuroscientist, a board-certified practicing psychiatrist, and an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Washington Medical School. The goal of my research is to investigate the neural circuitry of cognitive, emotional and memory processing, particularly as it relates to the cerebellum, and illnesses affecting cerebellum including cognitive disorders, PTSD, TBI and dementia through the implementation of techniques in mouse behavioral genetics. In my clinical practice, I primarily see veterans with PTSD, mild cognitive impairment, and various forms of dementia in an outpatient clinic at the VAMC Puget Sound Geriatric Research, Education, and Clinical Center (GRECC) in Seattle. I have over 15 years of experience in basic science research with most of that time dedicated to the use of mouse models of neuropsychiatric disorders.   Throughout my training prior to and during graduate school, I gained background in many contemporary molecular and biochemical lab techniques, such as molecular cloning, protein biochemistry, protein crystal production, fluorometric measurement of protein kinetics, in vivo NMR spectroscopy, gene targeting, microarray genomics, immunohistochemistry, and mammalian cell culture. I have a foundation in mouse genetics, neural development, and behavior which I developed in Michael Georgieff’s lab by investigating the role of iron in developing pyramidal neurons of the mouse hippocampus. During graduate training, I also received cross-training in child psychological development. In graduate school, I developed two mouse models of nonanemic neuron specific iron deficiency: 1) a conditional knockout of the Slc11a2 gene, encoding the iron transporter DMT-1 in forebrain neurons, including hippocampal pyramidal neurons, and 2) a transgenic mouse with a reversibly inducible dominant negative (nonfunctional) form of the transferrin receptor expressed only in hippocampal pyramidal neurons. I utilized and implemented different versions of the Morris Water Maze to study learning deficits in these mouse models of perinatal brain iron deficiency, a condition that is often a consequence of diabetes during pregnancy.   During my residency training, I expanded my knowledge of neuropsychiatric disorders by directly evaluating and treating patients with neuropsychiatric disorders including PTSD, schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease, autism, major depression, substance abuse disorders, and personality disorders. I learned numerous pharmacological, neuromodulatory, and psychotherapeutic interventions and participated in the internally funded Neuroscience Research Track. I then received a NIMH career development award (K08) mentored by Larry Zweifel, Ph.D. In that position, I investigated interactions between catecholamines and the cerebellum in decision making, emotional and cognitive processing. In the 5 years I was in Dr. Zweifel’s lab, I learned many additional new techniques including use of viral vectors, in vivo electrophysiology, and several operant- and threat-based behaviors, and moved forward in my goal of becoming a physician scientist isolating important circuits underlying etiology of specific domains of behavioral function. This work culminated in my receiving an RO1 independent investigator award, without any gap in funding.   My current research utilizes mouse behavior, in vivo electrophysiological recordings, gene targeting, viral vectors, translational profiling, chemo- and optogenetic tools, site-specific intracranial viral vector injection, and protein chemistry. I am now forging my path as an independent investigator, and my primary goal is to understand cerebellar circuits as they relate to psychiatric and neurodegenerative illnesses and utilize this knowledge to inform and improve current and novel psychiatric illnesses, primarily in cognitive and emotional domains. As such, I am pursuing a multidisciplinary approach combining genetic, electrophysiological, pharmacological, and behavioral techniques.  


UW - Dept. of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences Residency, 2014, Psychiatry
University of Minnesota School of Medicine Medical education, 2010
University of Minnesota School of Medicine Ph.D, 2008

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