Explore This Lab


Dr. Sadri-Vakili directs the NeuroEpigenetics laboratory at the MassGeneral Institute for Neurodegenerative Disease, where she focuses on identifying common mechanisms that cause neurodegenerative disease to identify novel therapeutic targets.

Thus far, the laboratory has identified disease specific alterations in multiple cellular pathways using human samples as well as cellular and animal models of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Huntington’s disease (HD), and X-linked dystonia-parkinsonism (XDP). In ALS, the laboratory is assessing the pathogenic role of neuroinflammation, oxidative stress, and the epigenome.

Together with colleagues from the NCRI the Sadri-Vakili lab uses biofluids to identify new diagnostic and prognostic biomarkers of disease.

In addition, Dr. Sadri-Vakili works closely with partners in industry and routinely tests the therapeutic effects of novel small molecules and FDA-approved compounds in animal models of ALS.

Currently, the laboratory is assessing the neuroprotective efficacy of an anti-inflammatory FDA-approved compound in a mouse model of ALS with the hope of moving it forward to testing in people.

Huntington’s Disease

The Huntington’s disease projects are focused on the study of histone modifications, in particular histone acetylation. Our previous findings have shown that alteration in histone acetylation is one mechanism that underlies transcriptional dysregulation in Huntington’s disease. Targeting histone modifying enzymes such as histone deacetylases is a novel approach for the treatment of several neurodegenerative disorders including Huntington’s disease.

Currently, as a collaborative effort we are focused on identifying specific and novel histone deacetylase inhibitors for the treatment of Huntington’s disease. We apply the most current techniques, such as chromatin immunoprecipitation, real-time PCR, and genome-wide location analysis, and use both cell as well as animal models of Huntington’s disease for our studies.

Molecular Mechanisms

The NeuroEpigenetics lab is also interested in investigating the molecular mechanisms that underlie drug abuse as part of several collaborations with colleagues from Mass General, University of Pennsylvania, and Mclean Hospital. It is now clear that repeated intake of drugs of abuse alters gene expression in limbic nuclei that underlies the neuronal and behavioral plasticity that characterizes addiction.

Our research is aimed at identifying the epigenetic marks involved in the regulation of cocaine-induced alterations in gene expression in limbic nuclei. More specifically work from our laboratory focuses on determining how cocaine-induced chromatin remodeling leads to alterations in brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) expression within the medial prefrontal cortex following exposure to cocaine.

Our most recent efforts are focused on determining whether these specific epigenetic marks are heritable and persist beyond the F1 generation in rodents exposed to cocaine prenatally or via self-administration.

Research Projects

Huntington’s Disease

Histone deacetylase inhibitors (HDACi) inhibit the activity of histone deacetylases, keeping chromatin in an “active” euchromatin state, thereby promoting gene expression.


Cocaine self-administration followed by 7 days of forced abstinence increases BDNF expression in the prefrontal cortex by decreasing MeCP2 binding, and increasing phospho-CREB and histone acetylation at BDNF promoter IV.

Research Positions

Read about and apply for residency, fellowship and observership programs in neurology.

All applicants should register with the Massachusetts General Hospital careers page.

Selected Publications

View the full PubMed publications list.

Famous, K.R., Kumaresan, V., Sadri-Vakili, G., Schmidt, H.D., Mierke, D.F., Cha, J.-H.J., and Pierce, R.C. Phosphorylation-dependent trafficking of GluR2-containing AMPA receptors in the nucleus accumbens shell contributes to the reinstatement of cocaine seeking. Journal of Neuroscience 2008; 28(43):11061-70.

Benn, C.L., Luthi-Carter, R., Kuhn A., Sadri-Vakili, G., Blankson, K.L., Dalai, S.C., Goldstein, D.R., Spires, T.L., Pritchard, J., Olson, J.M., van Dellen, A., Hannan, A.J., Cha, J.-H.J. Environmental enrichment reduces neuronal intranuclear inclusion load but has not effect on mRNA expression in a mouse model of Huntington’s disease. Journal of Neuropathology and Experimental Neurology 2010; 69(8):817-27.

Sadri-Vakili, G., Kumaresan, V., Schmidt, H.D., Famous, K.R., Chawla, P., Vassoler, F., Xia, E., Overland, R.P., Bass, C.E., Terwilliger, E.F., Pierce, R.C., and Cha, J.H.J. Cocaine-induced chromatin remodeling increases brain-derived neurotrophic factor transcription in the rat medial prefrontal cortex, which alters the reinforcing efficacy of cocaine. Journal of Neuroscience 2010; 30(35):11735-11744.

McCarthy, D., Zhang, X., Darnell, S.B., Sangrey, G.R., Yanagawa, Y., Sadri-Vakili, G., and Bhide, P.G. (2011) Cocaine alters BDNF expression and neuronal migration in the embryonic mouse forebrain. Journal of Neuroscience 31:13400-13411.