SPINR Committee Members

Gregory Berns
Chair, Neuroeconomics & Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

Monica Capra

Maryam Carn
NSI Support

Christopher Curran

Mary DeLong
Assistant Dean, Postdoctoral Education

Sonia Hayden

Shawn Hochman
Neuroscience & Biomedical Engineering

John Johnston

Paul Lennard
Director, Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology

Donna Maney
Neuroscience & Psychology

James Rilling
Neuroscience & Anthropology

Mark Risjord
Philosophy & Laney Graduate School

Leah Anderson Roesch
Director, Undergraduate Education, & Neuroscience

Deboleena Roy
Women's Studies & Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology

Julie Seaman
School of Law

Yoland Smith
Neuroscience & Neurology

Lena Ting
Neuroscience & Biomedical Engineering

Kristy Towry
School of Business

Larry Young
Neuroscience & Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

Current SPINR Faculty Mentors

Lawrence Barsalou

Lawrence Barsalou is Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Psychology at Emory University. He received a bachelors degree in Psychology from the University of California, San Diego in 1977 (working with George Mandler), and a Ph.D. in Psychology from Stanford University in 1981 (working with Gordon Bower). Since then, he has held faculty positions at Emory University, the Georgia Institute of Technology, and the University of Chicago, returning to Emory in 1997. Barsalou's research addresses the nature of human knowledge and its roles in perception, memory, language, and thought. The current theme of his research is that the human conceptual system is grounded in the brain's modal systems. Specific topics of interest include whether (and if so how) modal systems implement symbolic operations and abstract concepts. Other lines of research address the situated character of knowledge, the dynamic online construction of conceptual representations, the development of ad hoc categories to support goal achievement, the structure of knowledge, and category learning. Barsalou's research has been funded primarily by the National Science Foundation. He has held a Guggenheim fellowship; served as the chair of the Cognitive Science Society; won an award for graduate teaching from the University of Chicago; is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association, the Association for Psychological Science, the Cognitive Science Society, and the Mind and Life Institute.

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Gregory Berns

My research is aimed at understanding the neurobiological basis for individual preferences and how the biology places constraints on the decisions people make -- a field now known as neuroeconomics. To achieve this goal, we use functional MRI to measure the activity in key parts of the brain involved in decision making. We then link these activity traces to various phenotypes of decision making. For example, we have linked the pattern of activity in the striatum with the receipt of unexpected, salient information with the tendency to alter one's behavior. More recently, we have used the timecourse of activity as a proxy for experiential utility, in the process, bridging the gap between experience and choice. Ongoing research projects are developing these methods to probe decision-making in adolescents as well as group decision-making and the influence of peer pressure at the neurobiological level.

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DuBois Bowman

Dr. Bowman's research involves the development of statistical models that are used to analyze brain imaging data. He has developed statistical models that are applicable to functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), and positron emission tomography (PET) data. He collaborates with neuroimaging scientists at Emory University to conduct research examining neural processing associated with a variety of outcomes, generally related to psychopathology, learning, emotion, and behavior. Specific examples of Dr. Bowman's research include studies that evaluate neural correlates of social anxiety disorder, schizophrenia, major depression, drug craving, and moral and strategic reasoning in corporate decision-making.

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Monica Capra

My areas of interest are Experimental and Behavioral Economics. Put broadly, I use laboratory experiments to study decision making in economic environments. One of my main interests is decision processes. In recent projects, I use fMRI technology to study brain activation in an effort to better understand the process of choice. This area of research is called Neuroeconomics. I am also interested in developing laboratory environments that would be useful for policy. Currently, I am working on the application of laboratory methodologies for the study of entrepreneurship.

I am an affiliated faculty of Emory's new Center for Neuropolicy. I am also affiliated with the Latin American and Caribbean Studies Program (LACS), the Institute for Human Rights (IHR) at Emory, and the EXCEN lab at Georgia State University.

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Erica Duncan

The acoustic startle response (ASR) is a reflex seen across mammalian species in response to a sudden acoustic stimulus. Because the neuroanatomy and neuropharmacology of this reflex are well known and because there are ASR abnormalities in several psychiatric disorders, it is an excellent translational paradigm for investigating the pathophysiology of brain disorders. Clinical neuroscience research in our lab is using the ASR and its modulations as a probe of brain circuit function in subjects with schizophrenia, cocaine dependence, and posttraumatic stress disorder. We are also extending these studies into the areas of genetics and epigenetics. An additional area of our research involves the VISN7 Corporate Database as a repository of clinical data from our VA patients. We are using this resource in order to conduct retrospective studies of outcomes and metabolic changes in patients treated with antipsychotic medications.

John Dunne

He was educated at Amherst College and Harvard University, where he received his Ph.D. from the Committee on the Study of Religion. Before joining the Emory community, he served on the faculty of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and he previously conducted research at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland and Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies (India). His work focuses on Buddhist philosophy and contemplative practice, and he is a co-director of Emory's Collaborative for Contemplative Studies as well as the Encyclopedia of Contemplative Practices. His current research focuses especially on the concept of "mindfulness" in both theoretical and practical contexts.

David Harrison

The research in our lab lies in the development of biomedical imaging techniques, particularly those based on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and their application to the understanding of anatomy, function and physiology of brain in its normal state and diseased state. Specifically, we are focusing on functional MRI and diffusion tensor imaging and interested in furthering and using these techniques for understanding how brain works at a system level. Current projects include improvement of image acquisition and processing methods, investigation of underlying biophysics and physiology of imaging measurements, and elucidation of neurobiological underpinning of neuropsychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders.

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Xiaoping Hu

The research in our lab lies in the development of biomedical imaging techniques, particularly those based on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and their application to the understanding of anatomy, function and physiology of brain in its normal state and diseased state. Specifically, we are focusing on functional MRI and diffusion tensor imaging and interested in furthering and using these techniques for understanding how brain works at a system level. Current projects include improvement of image acquisition and processing methods, investigation of underlying biophysics and physiology of imaging measurements, and elucidation of neurobiological underpinning of neuropsychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders.

Helen Mayberg

My research group utilizes multimodal neuroimaging approaches (PET blood flow, glucose metabolism; fMRI/DTI resting state, task-based studies) to define and characterize neural circuits mediating both clinical symptoms and illness recovery in patients with major depression. We have systematically examined depression pathophysiology in both psychiatric and neurological patients, as well as mechanisms mediating antidepressant response to various modes of treatments (medications, psychotherapy, somatic). Current projects emphasize development of novel imaging biomarkers predictive of treatment response and optimal treatment selection for individual depressed patients at all stages of illness. Our long-term interest in neural network models of mood regulation in health and disease was the basis for a new intervention for treatment resistant patients using deep brain stimulation, a continued focus on ongoing research and a foundation for reverse translational studies in animal models. Active collaborators include psychiatrists, neurologists, neurosurgeons, psychologists, and cognitive neuroscientists as well as neuroanatomists, neurophysiologists, biomedical engineers and biostatisticians. Our ongoing studies are multidisciplinary and members of the lab and our collaborators reflect my research and clinical philosophy that broad-based, translational science is and will be essential to understanding, preventing and curing depression and other neuropsychiatric disorders.

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Steve M. Potter

New Neuroscience Technologies for Studying Learning in Vitro. We are merging software, hardware, and wetware in a new paradigm for neurobiology research, "Embodied Cultured Networks." It brings together top-down (cognitive, behavioral, ethological) and bottom-up cellular, molecular) approaches to studying the brain. We are applying Multi-electrode array culture dishes, 2-photon time-lapse microscopy, and High-speed imaging of neural activity to study cultured networks of hundreds or thousands of mammalian neurons. We are especially interested distributed activity patterns and information processing in these cultured networks. We give them a body, either simulated or robotic, and an environment in which to behave. We developed a real-time feedback system for 2-way communication between a computer and a cultured neural network. In collaboration with Dr. Robert Gross in Neurosurgery, we are using our closed-loop stimulation and recording technology to develop methods for treating epilepsy with electrical stimulation.

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Charles Raison

Dr. Raison's research program is guided by an interest in potential evolutionary explanations for the form taken by mood disorder symptoms, especially those related to dysregulation of the body's stress response and immune systems. Specifically, he is interested in ways in which activation of the body's inflammatory response system may contribute to the pathophysiology of depression as a result of previous benefits in terms of survival from infection. He is also interested in ways in which positive psychosocial connectivity may decrease inflammatory responses to stress and decrease the risk of depression in the context of medical illness. To address these issues, Dr. Raison serves as co-principle investigator with Dr. Andrew Miller on a large study that seeks to understand how chronic activation of the immune system leads to depression and fatigue. Patients who receive the cytokine interferon-alpha are being examined before and after treatment to explore how cytokine treatment changes functioning in endocrine and central nervous system pathways, as well as whether baseline physiological responses to psychological stress predict who becomes depressed in the context of immune activation. To examine ways in which improved psychosocial connectivity may protect against stress related inflammatory activation, Dr. Raison is collaborating with Geshe Lobsang Tenzin from the Loseling Institute to explore whether training in compassion meditation will reduce depressive symptoms and inflammatory reactivity to stress in Emory college students.

Kerry J. Ressler

The goal of my laboratory is to create a program which utilizes the enormous power of molecular biology to approach difficult and important questions in systems neuroscience. I use genes known to be involved in synaptic plasticity to examine plasticity in the amygdala and regions which connect with it during the consolidation phase of fear memory formation. I am also initiating a program to create transgenic animal models for visualizing the amygdala neurons, some of its sensory inputs and the neuromodulatory projections which together mediate some of the important behavioral responses of fear and stress. These models will create novel and powerful tools to begin to address systems level neuroscience questions at genetic, molecular and cellular levels in combination with electrophysiological and neuroimaging approaches to neural circuitry.

James K. Rilling

Dr. Rilling's research combines game theory paradigms with fMRI to investigate the neural bases of human social decision-making in the context of actual social interactions. His lab has discovered that brain reward systems help to sustain social cooperation (in the Prisoner's Dilemma Game) and has also identified a neural network involved in reacting and responding to unfair treatment (in the Ultimatum Game). Currently, Dr. Rilling is extending this research to explore the biological basis of individual variation in cooperative behavior. He is also investigating the potential role of oxytocin and vasopressin, neuropeptides implicated in attachment and affiliation in experimental animals, in human cooperation, as well as the neural mechanisms of these effects.

Dr. Rilling's other main area of research involves the use of neuroimaging to compare the human brain with the brains of other primate species in an attempt to identify the unique features of the human brain and to indirectly learn about human brain evolution. Currently, his lab is comparing white matter connectivity across species to determine if the human brain may be wired differently from other primate brains. His lab has described differences between humans and other primates in the size and trajectory of pathways involved in language, and they continue to explore other neural systems.

Mar M. Sanchez

My lab studies the neurobiology of stress responses and emotion regulation in nonhuman primates. We are particularly interested in understanding how early life stress (in particular, the disruption of the mother-infant relationship) affects the development of those brain systems, leading to psychopathology and pathophysiology characteristic of anxiety and mood disorders. In addition, we are integrating studies of genetic and social factors that interact with early environment to affect vulnerability to early adversity. To achieve these goals, we have used rodent, and more recently, nonhuman primate animal models to capitalize on the experimental control and the level of molecular/cellular analysis that they provide. The lab applies a multidisciplinary approach to these questions, including the analysis of: (1) neuroendocrine systems that mediate stress responses (e.g. hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis function; corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF)); (2) social and emotional behavior — including fear and anxiety; (3) cognitive analysis; (4) brain development using in vivo neuroimaging techniques (such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), and positron emission tomography (PET)); and (5) molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying those changes, including studies of gene/protein expression and receptor binding of neuropeptide and corticosteroid systems in brain regions involved in stress and emotional regulation (e.g., amygdala, prefrontal cortex, hippocampus). This multidisciplinary approach bridges different disciplines (stress neurobiology, neuroendocrinology, development, neuroimaging, genetics, primatology, behavior, psychobiology and psychopathology) and supports our collaboration with clinical researchers due to its great translational value for human studies.

Peter A. Wenner

The development of neural circuits requires a progressive series of synaptic decisions that determine whether the network behaves appropriately, or alternatively leads to developmental disorders (autism and childhood epilepsy/seizure). We study a recently identified form of synaptic plasticity that homeostatically regulates the levels of network activity, and provides a guiding principle for the normal maturation of synaptic connections in these nascent circuits. We examine the underlying mechanisms of this plasticity using electrophysiological, molecular, optical, and immunocytochemical techniques.

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Mark E. Wilson

Using the ethologically valid stressor of social subordination characteristic of macaque societies, our lab focuses on understanding how social variables affect a number of neuroendocrine systems and, thus, the regulation of behavioral and physiological health. One series of studies is directed at understanding the neuroendocrine and metabolic mechanisms that produce stress-induced infertility. This model allows allows us to study how social stressors change diet preference and food consumption as a means to understand neurobiological mechanisms that underlie emotional feeding. In addition, a parallel project is focused on the effects of social subordination on adolescent development by examining the importance of estradiol on emotional regulation and brain maturation, using both MR and PET neuroimaging.