Profile: Rola Bekdash


Department of Biological Sciences

Neuroscience and Epigenetics

Throughout my teaching career, I focused on improving Biology education and increasing students’ learning and retention at the college and university level.   I had the opportunity to work with a diverse student body and developed strategies to engage students of different career objectives.  Our students are the future leaders.  My main goal as an educator is to help my students acquire useful skills and prepare them to work and succeed in an increasingly competitive world.

Besides my passion for teaching, I am also passionate about neuroscience. My PhD research at Rutgers University and my Postdoctoral research at Columbia University Medical Center focused on understanding the impact of gene-environment interaction during early development on brain function and behavior.

Historically, various addictions were typically researched strictly as external environmental factors acting on a genetically stable brain.   Studies have shown that our epigenome is plastic and is molded by human experiences and social factors.  New research, which I have contributed to, show that individual’s susceptibility to drug addiction is partly induced by environmental factors such as stress and repeated exposure to drugs of abuse during critical periods of brain development.  These environmental influences have been shown to cause long-lasting epigenetic changes in the expression and function of many neuronal genes resulting in long-term negative health consequences including increased susceptibility to neurological disorders.  This may explain the perpetuation of the adverse effects of drugs of abuse across generations.

While our understanding of the neurobiology of addiction has recently increased, the development of effective medical treatment is a challenge.   Alcohol is an example of a common drug of abuse that can be viewed as a widespread toxin, or more generally, a common environmental factor.  Injuries to the developing brain can result in increasingly serious, prolonged and expensive consequences to the mature brain.   It is imperative to incrementally identify the cellular and molecular effects of alcohol within the brain reward circuitry with the purpose of identifying novel targets to advance medical treatment and protect the developing and the aging brain.

  • Education

    B.S. in Biology, American University of Beirut, Lebanon, 1993.

    M.S. in Biology, American University of Beirut, Lebanon, 1996.

    Ph.D. in Neuroscience, Rutgers University & Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, New Brunswick, NJ, 2012.

    Postdoctoral Fellow, Columbia University, NY, 2012-2015.

  • Publications

    Bekdash, RA, Harrison, NL (2015). Downregulation of Gabra4 expression during alcohol withdrawal is mediated by specific microRNAs in cultured mouse cortical neurons. Brain & Behavior, 5(8): e00355. PMID26357588.

    Gangisetty, O, Bekdash, RA, Maglakelid, G, Sarkar, DK (2014). Fetal alcohol exposure alters proopiomelanocortin gene expression and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis function via increasing MeCP2 expression in the hypothalamus. PLOS ONE, 9(11): e113228. PMID25409090.

    Bekdash, RA, Zhang, C, Sarkar, DK (2014).  Fetal alcohol programming of hypothalamic proopiomelanocortin system by epigenetic mechanisms and later life vulnerability to stress. Alcoholism Clinical & Experimental Research, 38(9):2323-2330. PMID25069392.

    Bekdash, RA, Zhang, C, Sarkar, DK (2013).   Gestational choline supplementation normalized fetal alcohol-induced alterations in histone modifications, DNA methylation and POMC gene expression in β-endorphin neurons of the hypothalamus. Alcoholism Clinical & Experimental Research, 37(7): 1133-1142. PMID23413810.

    *Govorko, D, * Bekdash, RA, *Zhang, C, Sarkar, DK (2012).  Male germline transmits fetal alcohol adverse effects on hypothalamic proopiomelanocortin gene across generations. Biological Psychiatry, 72(5):378-388. PMID22622000. *Equally contributing co-first authors.

    Talhouk, RS, El Dana, RA, Araj, GE, Barbour, EK, Hashwa, F (1998).   Prevalence, antimicrobial susceptibility and molecular characterization of Campylobacter isolates recovered from humans and poultry in Lebanon. The Lebanese Medical Journal, 46(6):310-316. PMID10349269.