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Translational Neuroscience in Depression_ From Autobiographical Memory Deficits to a real-time fMRI Neurofeedback Intervention

Dr. Young will discuss the development of a real-time fMRI neurofeedback intervention for patients with major depressive disorder (MDD). Her early work in autobiographical memory recall deficits found that patients with depression have trouble recalling specific autobiographical memories, particularly for positive events, and that this recall deficit was associated with blunted amygdala reactivity when individuals with MDD recalled positive autobiographical memories. While abundant evidence suggests that brain activity and behaviors in response to negative stimuli are exaggerated in patients with MDD, extant evidence further suggests that responses to positive stimuli are attenuated in these patients, and that these attenuated responses are directly related to depression severity. Despite these findings, traditional therapies focus almost exclusively on reducing negative affect and hyper-responsiveness to negative stimuli.  There is a need to shift the focus of treatment to include targeting reduced positive processing in these patients. Building upon this research, and working closely with her mentors, Dr. Young developed a real-time neurofeedback intervention for depression in which patients undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging learn, in real-time, how to upregulate their amygdala activity during positive autobiographical memory recall. The results of a randomized clinical trial suggest this intervention holds therapeutic potential for those with major depressive disorder. While this research is specific to patients with unipolar depression, this model can be used as a framework on how to discover and develop other neurofeedback-based intervention in patients with bipolar disorder.
 
Dr. Young earned a B.A. in Psychology and Sociology at Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA. She then went on to complete her M.A. and Ph.D in the Behavior, Cognition and Neuroscience program at American University in Washington DC in 2010.  During her graduate studies, Dr. Young also received the National Institute of Health's (NIH) post-baccalaureate Intramural Research Training Award (IRTA), allowing her to conduct research in the Section on Neuroimaging in Mood and Anxiety Disorders at the National Institute of Mental Health.
 
During her time at the NIMH Dr. Young was able to successfully design and pilot a novel task for studying autobiographical memory recall while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) which resulted in the first publication using fMRI to specifically investigate this type of memory recall in patients with depression. In 2010, she was recruited to join the new research team at the Laureate Institute for Brain Research (LIBR) by the founding director, Dr. Wayne Drevets.

 

During her time at LIBR, Dr. Young has published 14 first author papers, presented her research 15 times in oral or poster sessions at internationally recognized conferences, and received an “outstanding presentation” award for her work on autobiographical memory recall in depressed and at-risk populations. She was recently awarded the NIH’s Pathway to Independence K99/R00 award and the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation’s NARSAD Young Investigator Award for her ongoing work investigating the therapeutic potential of real-time fMRI amygdala neurofeedback. She will be continuing this line of research at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine as an assistant professor of psychiatry starting in April. Her long-term goal is to further develop and implement novel neurobehavioral treatments, such as real-time fMRI amygdala neurofeedback, and determine which patient populations and traditional therapies might benefit from the addition of such treatments.

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