Faculty Q&A: Manoela Fogaça, PhD

Apr. 25, 2024


Manoela Fogaca, PhD, is smiling with red lipstick, gold earrings, hazel eyes, and medium length wavy brown hair. She is wearing a black blazer and is standing in front of a brick wall.
Manoela Fogaça, PhD

Manoela V. Fogaça, PhD, is an assistant professor of Pharmacology and Physiology at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC). She received her undergraduate degree in Biomedical Sciences at the State University of Londrina and completed her master’s and PhD in Pharmacology at the University of Sao Paulo. She went on to complete her postdoctoral fellowship at Yale University where she investigated molecular, cellular, and synaptic mechanisms underlying the actions of fast-acting antidepressants. She joined URMC in 2023 where her research focuses on understanding the molecular basis of behaviors relevant to stress and identifying how specific circuits are impacted by pharmaceuticals.

Please summarize your research.

Exposure to chronic stress can result in functional changes in the brain that contribute to the onset of neuropsychiatric disorders, such as Major Depression Disorder (MDD), which impacts one in five individuals over their lifetime. Therefore, my research focuses on understanding the molecular basis of behaviors relevant to stress disorders and the actions of novel rapid antidepressant drugs, including compounds that target the glutamatergic and/or the GABAergic systems in the brain (ketamine, ketamine-like drugs, and GABA receptor modulators), aiming to identify specific circuits, neuronal subpopulations, and synaptic mechanisms involved in these responses. To this goal, we combine molecular neuropharmacology, genetic approaches, and circuit-level studies of neurobiological systems to investigate how specific subpopulations of GABAergic and glutamatergic neurons crosstalk to modulate excitation and inhibition network dynamics that lead to phenotypes relevant to MDD. In addition, we are interested in understanding how neuromodulators contribute to these responses, including endogenous opioids, endocannabinoids, and neuropeptides.

How did you become interested in your field?

When I started my undergraduate studies in Biomedical Sciences, I initially aimed to become a genetic engineer. However, in the early years of my academic journey, I faced significant challenges due to chronic stress and high self-expectations, leading to severe anxiety symptoms. At school, I underwent a sudden shift in behavior, transitioning from being sociable and outgoing to constantly introspective and worrying. This internal struggle prompted me to question: "How does a stressful environment shape my behavior, and how can I overcome it?" Motivated by my innate curiosity and a desire to address my challenges, I delved into neuroscience and fell in love with neuropsychopharmacology. The more I immersed myself in this field, the more I longed for knowledge. However, I soon realized that molecular psychiatry, while incredibly captivating, was relatively nascent compared to other fields, particularly over a decade ago. Recognizing the need for advancement in this area, I made a conscious decision to dedicate my career to investigating the neurobiology of stress and pharmacological interventions.

What brought you to the University of Rochester?

The UR community shares a vibrant scientific and institutional environment, fostering scientific progress, collaboration, and a wide array of resources for career development. With my background in Pharmacology and Neuroscience, URMC provides the perfect setting for advancing my studies. I am amazed by the friendly culture and high level of collaboration within the department, as well as UR’s strong dedication to inclusion and diversity. The "open doors" policy encourages the continuous exchange of ideas and knowledge among colleagues whom I’ve already begun collaborating with, including David MacLean, PhD, Cesare Orlandi, PhD, Jean Bidlack, PhD, and Andrew Wojtovich, PhD.

What is your favorite piece of advice?

Some advice I always share with my students: always try, even when that inner voice of doubt tells you otherwise. Opportunities come and go, and it is important to be prepared to welcome them when they arise. Sometimes, all it takes is the courage to open a door, take a deep breath, and embrace the risks. To achieve your goals, trying is just as important as gaining knowledge.

During my PhD, I was fortunate to receive an exchange fellowship to develop new skills in an international lab. I had long admired the work of Dr. Ron Duman, a world leader in the field of depression (unfortunately, he passed away in 2020). Despite not knowing him personally, I decided to take a chance and write him an email, introducing myself and proposing an exchange in his lab. I expected that he might take days to reply, or even worse, never respond at all. However, to my surprise (and yet, not surprising at all once I met him), he replied to me the very next day, expressing his enthusiasm to have me in his lab. Ron welcomed me into his lab at Yale University for a 6-month exchange in 2015, and later invited me back in 2016 as a postdoctoral fellow. This experience serves as a small reminder of the importance of courage in creating your own opportunities and being willing to take risks. If I had never sent that email, I might not have moved to the United States and be sharing my journey with you today.

This article originally appeared in NeURoscience Volume 21.