The Imaging Genetics and Neuroinformatics Laboratory is actively engaged in a number of research projects ranging from large-scale, international, multi-site functional neuroimaging studies of mental disorders (schizophrenia, huntington’s disease, psychosis) to smaller local studies involving very low-cost EEG to classify mental states. Various current research projects are outlined below.
Large Scale Imaging Genetics Studies
Schizophrenia – The role of genetics in understanding the causes of schizophrenia, its symptoms and potential treatments requires the coordinated efforts of many investigators. We are currently using common genetic variants from genome-wide scan studies (GWS) and neuroimaging in combination, to determine the genetic effects on intermediate measures such as brain structure and function, in the pathways from genetics through neurobiology to the eventual cognitive and emotional dsyfunctions in psychosis.
Huntington’s Disease – Huntington’s Disease develops from an excess of repeats of a particular set of genetic markers in the Huntingtin gene. Everyone has some repeats, but too many leads to the eventual breakdown of some of the subcortical brain regions responsible for movement. The number of repeats that one has allows some prediction of the time one still has before symptoms are severe enough for diagnosis, but subtle changes in cognitive and motor processing can occur a decade before the final diagnosis occurs. We are examining the genetic background and patterns that explain why some people progress faster than might be expected from the number of repeats they have, and others progress more slowly than expected, in their cognitive and motor decline, as mediated through the loss of gray matter both subcortically and cortically.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder – ADHD is primarily recognized in childhood, but there is evidence of persistent symptoms into adulthood in some individuals. Through the generosity of multiple ADHD imaging studies of children and adults, we are examining the patterns of brain volumes and genetic markers that indicate the persistence of ADHD into adulthood.
Psychosis – Psychosis represents the breakdown of normal internal creation and representation of reality. We are particularly interested in the phenomenon of hallucinations, in which individuals usually hear voices or speech from someone whom no one else experiences. This can occur in the non-psychotic population, in which case it is not accompanied usually by as much distress, or loss of function in every day life as in the individuals with psychosis. Our research explores the brain structure and functional differences correlating with and underlying hallucinations in various populations.
Functional Neuroimaging Studies
Treatment Resistant Schizophrenia and Clozapine Treated Individuals – Through collaborations with Dr. Rob Cotes of Emory/Grady hospital, we are investigating brain markers within individuals with schizophrenia who are being treated with Clozapine. Clozapine is a treatment that is offered after the other anti-psychotic medications have failed to provide adequate relief. We are exploring measures of inflammation and gray and white matter loss in this population.
Source Monitoring and Hallucinations in Healthy Individuals – Through collaborations with Dr. Heather Offut at GSU, we are examining both behaviorally and with neuroimaging, the brain networks related to short term memory for source monitoring (recalling whether some event occurred or was imagined), and the brain networks related to imagination.
Interpersonal interactions in Social Anxiety – In collaboration with Dr. Erin Tone at GSU, we are clarifying the differences in social processing brain networks and emotional processing networks in socially anxious individuals. We use iterated personal interactions such as the Prisoner’s Dilemma to examine the role of social uncertainty and fear of negative evaluation in making decisions about how to act.