Current Research Projects
The goals of the Psychiatric NeuroCognition lab are to investigate neural and behavioral markers of cognitive functioning in psychiatric disorders. Our research uses experimental paradigms of attention, decision-making, and emotion regulation in patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) as well as healthy individuals. By combining measures of neural activity during task, intrinsic functional connectivity, and structural connectivity using DTI, our work seeks to relate neural circuit mechanisms to behavioral dysfunction. We also have active collaborations with research labs focusing on tics, major depression, and substance abuse, allowing us to investigate differences and similarities across multiple disorders.
Many of the studies described below are currently recruiting subjects. If you are interested in participating in research, please visit the How to Participate section.
Decision making under risk
Recent research on risk preference indicates that an individual’s willingness to engage in risk-seeking or risk-averse behavior is impacted by the context in which decisions are made. In this line of work, we test a range of external and internal factors that influence such our choices. To test our hypotheses, we use economic models of decision-making in which participants make monetary choices based on their own evaluation of risk. Specifically, we are interested in whether patients with OCD and healthy individuals differ in their choices.
Modulation of the insula using real-time functional magnetic resonance imaging
Exciting new evidence indicates that people can use feedback of the BOLD signal to regulate activity in specific regions of the brain. In this project, we are utilizing real-time functional magnetic resonance imaging (rt-fMRI) to provide participants with on-line feedback from the insula, a part of the brain involved in negative emotions such as disgust and pain. Participants are trained to regulate neural activity in the insula while viewing negative images. This research aims to teach both healthy individuals and those with psychiatric disorders to implement strategies to modulate brain activity in order to improve emotion regulation outside of the experimental setting.
Effects of ondansetron on brain function
The purpose of this study is to examine the effects of a single dose of the drug ondansetron as compared to placebo on neural functioning in OCD and tics patients as well as healthy individuals using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Ondansetron is a serotonin antagonist that is FDA approved to treat nausea and vomiting. Some studies indicate that ondansetron may also be effective at reducing symptom severity in psychiatric disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder and tic disorders. The current study investigates the effects of ondansetron on brain activation and connectivity in order to better understand why the drug might be efficacious in the treatment of psychiatric disorders.
Measuring activation of the human habenula with fMRI
This study examines the habenula, a small region of the brain located in the epithalamus that influences reward-related signaling. Normally, rewarding events cause the release of dopamine within specific reward pathways. The habenula is engaged when people or animals encounter aversive or disappointing events, which leads to a decrease in dopamine release in reward pathways. New research indicates that excessive habenula signaling may be associated with depression and other psychiatric illnesses. In this study, we make use of high-resolution fMRI to better understand this important region of the brain in healthy subjects and patients with major depressive disorder.
Neurobiology of sensory phenomena
This study is investigating the neurobiological mechanisms of sensory phenomena symptoms in patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder and their siblings using task-based fMRI, resting-state functional connectivity, and diffusion MRI approaches. Sensory phenomena are uncomfortable or aversive sensory experiences that can drive repetitive behavior and are highly prevalent in OCD patients. This project builds on our preliminary data to (1) investigate the neural mechanisms of SP in a large OCD cohort showing the full range of SP severity and (2) probe for familial risk markers in unaffected siblings.