Project descriptions

Postdoctoral Fellowship in Translational Neuroscience
Projects and Mentor Teams
The four specific research projects and teams of mentors that have been identified are listed
below with short descriptions of the projects and training that will be provided. Applicants may
contact potential mentors for more information. Please do not contact them about the
application process. Those questions should be addressed to Kelly Griffin at
[Note: Applicants who are interested in focusing their work on other projects that combine basic
and clinical approaches to psychiatric disorders are also welcome to apply. To inquire about
this option please contact Dr. Justin Fallon ( or Dr. Katharine Phillips
1. Project Title: Genes and Sleep: From C. elegans to Humans
Anne Hart, Ph.D. - Department of Neuroscience
Mary Carskadon, Ph.D. - Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior
Valerie Knopik, Ph.D. - Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior
Project Description:
The post-doctoral fellow will be trained in both C. elegans and human behavioral
genetics including genetic studies of C. elegans sleep, collecting human data in the Bradley
Hospital sleep laboratory, and observation in sleep clinics. The fellow will combine human and
C. elegans results to identify genes that regulate sleep or cause sleep disorders in humans.
This collaborative training program will prepare the post-doctoral fellow for a career combining
the complementary and powerful approaches available in invertebrates and in human clinical
studies to identify and characterize the conserved genes and mechanisms underpinning sleep
across species. Dr. Hart will provide research training related to C. elegans genetics and Drs.
Carskadon and Knopik will lead the training related to human genetics and the sleep lab.
2. Project Title: Neuroimaging and Alzheimer's Disease
David Badre, Ph.D. - Department of Cognitive, Linguistic and Psychological Sciences
William Heindel, Ph.D. - Department of Cognitive, Linguistic and Psychological Sciences
Stephen Salloway, M.D. - Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior
Project Description:
Elderly individuals can display subtle cognitive changes that precede the onset of clinical
Alzheimer’s disease (AD) by as much as a decade and the ability to detect individuals entering
this prodromal phase is critical for effective therapeutic intervention. Neuropathological studies
indicate that AD produces a disruption of cortico-cortical projections connecting distinct but
functionally related cortical regions, suggesting that the combination of cognitive and
neuroimaging markers of disrupted functional connectivity may be particularly effective at
identifying individuals at risk. Fellows participating in this project will have an opportunity to train
in cognitive neuroscience methods within a translational setting. Methodological training will
involve fMRI analysis including current methods of resting state and task-related functional
connectivity analysis, and cutting-edge structural imaging such as diffusion spectrum imaging
and probabilistic diffusion tensor imaging. Fellows will utilize neurocognitive paradigms with
clinical populations at risk for AD; will interact closely with AD patients on a regular basis in a
clinical setting through the Memory and Aging Program at Butler Hospital; and will gain
experience in translational research directly bridging cognitive neuroscience with clinical
3. Project Title: Acquisition and Extinction of Contextually Cued Avoidant/Repetitive Behaviors
Rebecca Burwell, Ph.D. - Department of Cognitive, Linguistic and Psychological
Steven Rasmussen, M.D. - Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior
Project Description:
Representations of context are important for perception, memory, decision-making, and
other cognitive processes. Considerable evidence indicates that contextual representations are
disrupted in neuropsychiatric disorders, including obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
Context is also relevant for treatment of neuropsychiatric disorders. For example, OCD is
treated with exposure therapy, a form of extinction learning. Because extinction is contextdependent, exposure therapy can fail to generalize to daily life environments. We have a circuit
model of OCD that centers on perirhinal and postrhinal cortices. Based on our model, we
hypothesize that context-dependent extinction of associations between cues and compulsive
behaviors is modulated by postrhinal cortex. A prediction of this model is that suppression of
postrhinal activity during extinction would interfere with context dependence resulting in
generalization of extinction to other contexts. A postdoctoral fellow would have the opportunity
to combine electrophysiology and optogenetic methods in behaving rodents to probe questions
about OCD and context. Within this translational framework, the fellow will attend a weekly OCD
research meeting and regularly observe evaluations and treatment of OCD and PTSD patients
at Butler Hospital and the Providence VA Medical Center.
4. Project Title: Visual Processing in Body Dysmorphic Disorder and Anorexia Nervosa
David Sheinberg, Ph.D. - Department of Neuroscience
Katharine Phillips, M.D. - Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior
Project Description:
The fellowship will focus on visual processing in two severe psychiatric disorders that
involve distorted body image – body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) and anorexia nervosa. The
fellow will investigate how visual perception is altered in these patients, using modern visual
psychophysics paradigms, and how such disturbances may be treated through principled
training programs. In the near future, we plan to integrate neuroimaging of these individuals in
Brown’s state-of-the-art MRI Research Facility. The trainee will be involved in all aspects of our
ongoing behavioral testing and planned MRI studies. He/she will gain extensive experience in
both the psychophysical paradigms used in Dr. Sheinberg’s lab and the clinical assessments
used in Dr. Phillips’s NIMH-funded treatment study on BDD. On a regular basis he/she will also
observe pharmacologic and psychosocial treatment of patients and will do directed readings on
clinical and translational aspects of these disorders.