First Time R01 Recipients Embark on New Phase of Their Careers

The receipt of a researcher's first R01 grant is an important milestone in their career as an independent scientist. Investigators in the Department of Psychiatry that transitioned from career development awards to their first R01 awards during the past year are embarking on the next phase of their academic careers and represent the diversity of research interests in the department.


Susanne E. Ahmari, MD, PhD
Assistant Professor of Psychiatry

Testing the Role of Circuit Plasticity in the Pathology and Treatment of Abnormal Repetitive Behaviors

This 5-year BRAINS award from NIMH will support the Ahmari lab's efforts to understand how abnormal brain activity leads to obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors in Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), a chronic, disabling illness that affects 2-3% of people worldwide. The purpose of the project is to combine cutting-edge neuroscience technologies in rodents with translatable neurocognitive probes to identify molecular and cellular changes linked to onset, persistence, and successful treatment of perseverative behaviors. The ultimate goal of these studies is to identify novel treatment strategies for perseverative thought patterns and actions that cut across diagnostic boundaries.

Yanhua Huang, PhD
Assistant Professor of Psychiatry

Dopamine Signaling and Synaptic Plasticity in the Nucleus Accumbens

Synaptic Reorganization in Drug Addiction

Translational Neuroscience Program faculty member, Dr. Yanhua Huang, is the recipient of two R01 grants: one from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the other from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Both are five-year awards that will support the Huang laboratory's research on the cellular mechanisms behind the dopamine regulation of glutamate signaling and synaptic reorganization in drug addiction, respectively. Timing-dependent dopamine signaling in the nucleus accumbens, which Dr. Huang and her colleagues will study, has profound implications that range from basic reward seeking to the pathophysiology of psychiatric illnesses. The purpose of the innovative project funded by the NIMH, titled "Dopamine Signaling and Synaptic Plasticity in the Nucleus Accumbens", is to characterize a novel form of neural plasticity which is selectively dependent on temporally-contingent dopamine signaling. The expected outcomes will define a novel cellular and circuitry mechanism underlying emotion-cognition interactions, and identify molecular targets for new interventions for psychiatric disorders. The project funded by NIDA, titled "Synaptic Reorganization in Drug Addiction", is an exciting and innovative study to examine the idea that exposure to cocaine generates silent synapses, and that these synapses mature during cocaine withdrawal into durable circuits. These long-lasting circuits may produce drug-craving and relapse.

Cecile Ladouceur, PhD
Assistant Professor of Psychiatry

Pubertal Maturation and Motivational Influences on Frontolimbic Systems

The goal of this project is to investigate the specific influence of puberty and steroid hormones on the development of brain systems supporting emotion processing and regulation in typically developing youth. Another goal is to determine the extent to which heightened sensitivity to reward during puberty can be used to enhance the effects of incentives on attentional control systems and promote greater emotion regulation. Findings from this study aim to increase mechanistic understanding of risk for mood disorders, which now afflict about one in every 10 young people at any given time, and also may lead to the creation of innovative developmentally sensitive interventions.

Carla Mazefsky, PhD
Assistant Professor of Psychiatry

Change-Sensitive Measurement of Emotion Dysregulation in ASD

The overall goal of this five-year award is to refine and validate a new measure emotion dysregulation that was designed to capture the full range of problems with emotional distress and emotional control observed in people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), be independent of verbal ability, and address the pressing need for sensitive outcome measures for clinical trials of people with developmental disabilities. Data collected from over 1000 participants as part of this study will identify specific emotion profiles in ASD that can be used to enhance treatment planning and characterize emotion-related subtypes in studies of ASD's biology, and this research will also enable future cross-population investigations of dimensions of emotion dysregulation.

Dustin Pardini, PhD
Assistant Professor of Psychiatry

Diverging Marijuana Use Trajectories in Black & White Men: Antecedents & Outcomes

This secondary data analysis project is designed to examine the influence that childhood risk/protective factors and early adult positive life events have on the developmental course of marijuana use from adolescence to adulthood among black and white males. In addition, the project will examine whether frequent and chronic marijuana use during adolescence is associated with abnormalities in brain structure and functioning during young adulthood.

Stephanie Stepp, PhD
Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Psychology

Components of Emotional Instability as Precursors of Borderline Personality

The current project will recruit youth aged 11-13 years and primary caretakers (N=165 families; 50% girls) to examine components of emotional instability (reactivity, intensity, sustained response) as precursors of borderline personality disorder within the context of the parent-child relationship. In accordance with NIMH strategic priorities, the proposed work is a novel and critical step to identify who is at greatest risk and how to intervene with vulnerable youth and their families.

David Volk, MD, PhD
Associate Professor of Psychiatry

Disrupted Ontogeny of Cortical GABA Neurons in Schizophrenia

This five-year award will support the Volk laboratory's research to increase our understanding of what goes awry in the ontogeny of GABA neurons in individuals with schizophrenia. The purpose of the project is to characterize a low GABA marker phenotype that may contribute to certain clinical features shared in subsets of subjects across psychiatric disorders. These studies may facilitate the development of novel diagnostic strategies with the "low GABA marker" phenotype, guide personalized treatments, and inform preventative strategies to reduce risks for developing schizophrenia in at-risk subjects.