Anatomy and Neurochemistry of Major Psychiatric Illnesses
A longstanding focus of our laboratory is examining how pathways through the amygdala are positioned to mediate symptomatology of severe mental illnesses. Over the last decade, multiple human neuroimaging studies show that amygdala dysfunction—its structure, function, or both—is a component of many psychiatric syndromes. Broadly speaking, this is not surprising since the amygdala has long been known to code the salience of external experience. However, the amygdala participates in many diverse and specific functions including fear conditioning and extinction, safety signaling, recognition of emotion in facial expression, and affective responses to primary rewards and punishments. Many of these functions have seemingly opposing goals, raising the question of whether discrete or similar amygdala subregions or cell groups participate in recognizing safety versus reward, or fear learning and extinction. Moreover, the amygdala is a highly heterogeneous structure whose various nuclei have significant differences in structure and connectivity among animal species. Ongoing studies in our laboratory use nonhuman primate models to identify how input/output pathway through the amygdala converge and segregate in order to understand how various types of emotional coding might take place in the human. Because many psychiatric symptoms are brought about by stressful life experiences, we work n collaboration with other nonhuman primate groups, to examine the molecular and cellular features of specific amygdala circuits and subcircuits that are especially important in stress responses. Our work is important in helping to design and interpret outcomes of human neuroimaging work, and we also work with several groups studying manifestations of psychiatric disease in humans.
A new area of study in our laboratory involves models of stress in adolescent rats. Since circuit formation in the amygdala is ongoing during childhood and adolescence, we have several studies investigating the roles of stress on typical amygdala development, and correlated behavioral outcomes.
We invite you to visit our research projects page to see specific projects ongoing in the laboratory.
A word to undergraduates…
We love undergraduates but….we have a very small laboratory! We take only 1-2 undergraduates per semester or summer period because we need to give you hands-on training. Therefore we are often full for several semesters in advance. We take juniors or seniors for Independent study (NSC 395) during the year. Grading is based on the student’s ability to work independently and productively once trained, to participate as part of a team, contributions to journal club and lab meetings where feasible, and a final paper with a scholarly introduction and discussion of data based on your project. For summer internships, we ask that you discuss funding opportunities through your school either with your undergraduate advisor or the UR Career Center. We can help you to apply for funding opportunities but do not have resources for undergraduates except in very specific instances.