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Young Investigator Awards

Department of Psychiatry Investigators Selected
for NARSAD Young Investigator Awards

Three Department of Psychiatry researchers have been awarded NARSAD Young Investigator Awards from the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation.

Melynda Casement, PhD, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, will study the relationship between chronic inflammation and depression in young women with moderate to severe depressive symptoms. Research suggests that inflammation might contribute to depression by damaging brain regions that allow us to feel pleasure or accomplishment.  Dr. Casement will explore this by experimenting with the women’s sleep conditions. She hopes to show that sleep extension might serve as a low-risk intervention that could reduce inflammation, improve pleasure-related brain function, and decrease symptom severity in young women with moderate to severe depressive symptoms.


Jill Glausier, PhD, Instructor in Psychiatry, will utilize the award to investigate the underlying mechanisms of working memory in order to identify novel therapeutic targets for patients with schizophrenia. Working memory is a core cognitive function impaired in schizophrenia that depends upon activation of prefrontal cortex (PFC) circuitry. People with schizophrenia show reduced PFC activation while performing working memory tasks, but the underlying mechanism causing reduced activity is unknown. This research focuses on determining whether reduced excitation in a key neural microcircuit for working memory contributes to lower PFC activation in schizophrenia.  By determining whether and how this microcircuit is altered in people with schizophrenia, Dr. Glausier hopes to identify rational and novel targets for future therapeutics.

 

With support from the NARSAD grant, Susan Perlman, PhD, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, will explore the neural correlates of social reciprocity, the capacity for back-and-forth social interaction that is often impaired in autism spectrum disorders.  This study will measure the correlation between brain activation in two people interacting with each other. Using the imaging technique of near-infrared spectroscopy, the team will examine activity in the medial prefrontal cortex and temporo-parietal junction—brain regions associated with social reciprocity—while children with autism interact with a parent or experimenter. Daily reciprocal speech in the children’s home environment will also be measured using language tracking devices. Dr. Perlman hopes this study will introduce new measures of neural interaction that can be used to test the efficacy of current autism treatments, and will also inform novel brain-based ASD treatments.