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Tue, 18 Oct 2016 3:30 pm - 5:00 pm


Bio-Psychosocial Factors and Mental Illness

These presentations are the first in a series to help facilitate collaborations by connecting scientists with methodological, content, or other expertise needed to complete current or future projects. Each of these presenters has a project for which additional expertise is needed. Is it possible that you are that person? Do you think you might know people in your research network who can help them? If so, please join us! There will be a 10-15-minute presentation followed by a 5-minute Q&A for each speaker. After the presentations are over there will be time to talk with the speakers individually or network with other attendees.

Aysenil Belger, PhD
Professor and Director of Neuroimaging Research
UNC Department of Psychiatry
Professor, Duke-UNC Brain Imaging and Analysis Center


Neurobiological Substrates of Stress Effects On Adolescent Brain and Cognition

Adolescence is a critical period of brain maturation. It is also a critical period for life changes that expose individuals to psychosocial stressors, including peer-pressure and substance abuse. Adolescence is also a critical period of the onset of debilitating mental illness, including psychosis and mood disorders. Recent evidence suggests a potentially causal link between exposure to psychosocial stressors and individual differences in stress vulnerability and resilience in the onset of these disorders. The overarching goal of our research is to understand factors that impact aberrant stress reactivity and recovery, as well as history of psychosocial stressors that contribute to poor cognitive capacity and inset of neuropsychiatric symptoms in adolescence. We use converging evidence across multiple measurement methods, including functional and structural neuroimaging, brain electrophysiological recordings, neurobiological markers of stress and puberty, clinical screening and neurocognitive evaluations to inform about the relationship between mental health markers and neurophysiological and cognitive factors in adolescents 9-16 years of age.

We are looking for researchers who can bridge us to better understand other complex factors that might contribute to the emergence of symptoms in adolescence and how these might interact with stress circuits. We are seeking collaborators who could add expertise in multiple areas to our project: understanding the impact of early childhood trauma on adolescent brain and behavior; expertise in engineering and biomedical solutions to real-time measurement of physiological responses; expertise in biostatistical modeling of complex multidimensional longitudinal data. We are also looking for collaborators who would be willing to pursue new complementary funding opportunities with us.

Hudson Santos, PhD, RN
Assistant Professor, UNC School of Nursing


Understand the underlying bio-psychosocial mechanisms driving depressive processes in mothers from underserved populations

Emerging evidence shows that mood disorders can be plausibly conceptualized as networks of causally interacting symptoms rather than as latent variables where symptoms are passive indicators. In this talk, I will introduce an empirical application of network analysis to estimate the network structure of 20 perinatal depressive (PND) symptoms. Further, I will show two proof-of-principle analyses: incorporating stress-related and reproductive hormone variables into the network, and comparing the network structure of PND symptoms between healthy and depressed women. We analyzed a cross-sectional sample of 515 Latina women at the second trimester of pregnancy.

With this talk I hope to establish collaborations to apply innovative analytical techniques to advance our understanding of the underlying bio-psychosocial mechanisms driving depressive processes, including investigations of symptom-to-biomarker mechanisms, symptom-tailored interventions, and identification of early warning signals of depressive symptoms onset in mothers from underserved populations. Future directions and challenges will be discussed.

We are seeking funding for the project. Expertise in biostatistics/psychometrics, biology and epigenetics. The role the person would play of the proposal would be a co-investigator or methodological expert.

Desiree W Murray, PhD
Senior Research Scientist, and Associate Director of Research
Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute


Self-regulation development strategies for early adolescents based in current developmental neuroscience

A significant number of children and adolescents exhibit social-emotional and behavioral challenges because they lack adequate cognitive and emotional self-regulation skills, which can lead to school failure, involvement in the juvenile justice system, and long-term negative health effects. My intervention work addresses how to strengthen self-regulation in at-risk children and adolescents so as to enhance their physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing and prevent psychiatric diagnoses such as ADHD. Based on a recent literature review completed by our team, existing programs tend to be overly narrow or diffuse in their approach, and are not well-connected to recent developmental neuroscience. The broad goals of my research are to develop effective self-regulation coaching strategies for parents, teachers, and other mental health professionals that can be integrated into existing programs to enhance their effectiveness as well as to develop instructional curricula for early adolescents based in current neuroscience research. We recently submitted an application for funding to develop a school-based intervention including professional development for middle school health education teachers and an interactive curriculum integrating cognitive-behavior and mindfulness strategies for students. An initial step in this project is to collect observational data on self-regulation support language and behaviors from peers and teachers in middle school classrooms, which could be initiated as a pilot study.

Collaborators with expertise in translating basic developmental neuroscience into intervention strategies and in measuring effects of self-regulation strategies on neurobiological processes and health-related outcomes would be helpful.

“The Bio-Psychosocial Factors and Mental Illness Interest group is an interactive community of scholars—faculty, students, postdoctoral fellows and staff—who pool their talents to achieve a new level of excellence in understanding adolescent brain and behavior and implementation of new policy and actions."


Location information

Brinkhous-Bullitt, room 219

United States
North Carolina
27599 Chapel Hill
North Medical Drive 160