If you’re interested in learning more about our work, please join us for upcoming presentations–
Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, University of Iowa: October 27, 2017
S4SN Meeting, DC: November 10, 2017. Join us for a wonderful symposium organized by Kalina Michalska!
SFN Meeting, DC: November 15, 2017. Melissa Stockbridge will be presenting some exciting new collaborative work focused on the integration of anxiety, pain, and cognitive control in the cingulate!
Department of Psychology Neuroscience Seminar Series, Yale University: November 17, 2017
Department of Psychology, Vanderbilt University: March 29, 2018
ADAA Meeting, DC: April 6-7, 2017. Join us for a symposium on recent advances in our understanding of extreme early-life anxiety, featuring Jenni Blackford (Vanderbilt), Dylan Gee (Yale), and Lisa Williams (Wisconsin)!
Allegra has been chosen to attend the University of Minnesota’s Diversity in Psychology Program! This is a competitive award granted to historically underrepresented individuals in psychology graduate programs who are interested in learning doctoral training at UMN.
The program involves meetings with program faculty members and graduate students to discuss students’ research interests and presentations designed to familiarize participants with strategies for constructing successful graduate school applications. Travel, lodging, and meals are provided for all attendees.
The Shackman lab is thrilled to have joined the Hierarchical Taxonomy of Psychopathology (HiTOP) Consortium, an international workgroup of clinical and personality psychologists, psychiatrists, statisticians, and neurobiologists focused on understanding the nature of mental illness and using data-driven approaches to develop better and more useful tools for diagnosing and measuring psychiatic disorders and symptoms.
Fox, A. S.*, Lapate, R. C., Davidson, R. J. & Shackman, A. J.* (in press). Epilogue—The nature of emotion: A research agenda for the 21st century. In Fox, A. S., Lapate, R. C., Shackman, A. J. & Davidson, R. J. (Eds.). The nature of emotion: Fundamental questions (2nd ed.). New York: Oxford University Press.
Gorka, A. X., Torrisi, S., Shackman, A. J., Grillon, C. & Ernst, M. (in press). Intrinsic functional connectivity of the central nucleus of the amygdala and bed nucleus of the stria terminalis. Neuroimage.
Nusslock, R., Shackman, A. J., McMenamin, B. W., Greischar, L. L., Davidson, R. J., & Kovacs, M. (in press). Comorbid anxiety moderates the relationship between depression history and prefrontal EEG asymmetry. Psychophysiology.
Fox, A. S. & Shackman, A. J. (in press). Afterword: How are emotions physically embodied? In Fox, A. S., Lapate, R. C., Shackman, A. J. & Davidson, R. J. (Eds.). The nature of emotion. Fundamental questions (2nd edition). New York: Oxford University Press.
Shackman, A. J., Stockbridge, M. D., LeMay, E. P., & Fox, A.S. (in press). The psychological and neurobiological bases of dispositional negativity. In Fox, A. S., Lapate, R.C., Shackman, A. J. & Davidson, R. J. (Eds.), The nature of emotion. Fundamental questions (2nd edition). New York: Oxford University Press.
Okon-Singer, H., Stout, D. M., Stockbridge, M. D., Gamer, M., Fox, A. S. & Shackman, A. J. (in press). The interplay of emotion and cognition. In Fox, A. S., Lapate, R. C., Shackman, A. J. & Davidson, R. J. (Eds.), The nature of emotion. Fundamental questions (2nd edition). New York: Oxford University Press.
Samiha recently presented her undergraduate honors thesis project in a poster session at the 125th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association (APA) in Washington, D.C. Her thesis explored risk factors for psychological well-being and distress among South Asian American young adults.
APA is the largest annual gathering of psychologists from across the world, featuring individuals from a variety of professional settings presenting on topics from all sub-fields in psychology. This organization’s main purpose is to communicate methods of improving health and wellness through the practice of psychology.
Allegra has been invited to the University of Delaware’s Clinical Psychology Doctoral Program Visit Day! This is a competitive award granted to research-oriented students and recent graduates from underrepresented groups who want to learn more about doctoral training in clinical science.
The program involves informative presentations on applying to graduate school, individual and small group meetings with program faculty members and graduate students to discuss students’ research interests, and social events & networking with current graduate students and faculty members. Travel, lodging, and meals are provided for all attendees.
Stout, D. M. *, Shackman, A. J. *, Pedersen, W. S., Miskovich, T. A., & Larson, C. L. (2017). Neural circuitry governing anxious individuals’ mis-allocation of working memory to threat. Scientific Reports, 7, 8742.
A very warm welcome to our new post-doctoral fellow, Juyoen Hur!
Juyoen is a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Psychology at the University of Maryland, College Park. She earned her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2017 and completed her clinical internship at the Department of Psychiatry of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health. Her program of research examines the attentional and affective mechanisms of anxiety disorders and depression, particularly focusing on the interactive influences of emotion and attention. Her interest in studying the interplay of cognitive and emotional risk factors for anxiety and depression stems from its potential to identify novel treatment targets and thus improve prevention and intervention efforts.
Claire is currently completing a clinical externship with the Health Psychology and Neurobehavioral Research Group at the National Cancer Institute within NIH. Her training focuses on neuropsychological assessment and treatment of the cognitive, behavioral, and psychological problems of adolescents and adults with chronic medical conditions, especially those with neurobehavioral effects (e.g., brain tumors, leukemia, sickle cell anemia, neurofibromatosis type 1), enrolled on treatment protocols at the NCI and other NIH institutes.
Rachael’s current clinical externship placement is at the Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders at Children’s National Hospital. Her training focuses on neuropsychological and diagnostic evaluations for children, adolescents, and young adults on the autism spectrum, or suspected of having an autism spectrum disorder. Go, Rachael!
Claire successfully defended her master’s project.
This functional MRI project is focused on understanding the anxiety-reducing effects of alcohol on the neural systems underlying fear and anxiety in a community sample of healthy adults (21-35 years). For this project, we developed and employed a novel fMRI task paradigm which selectively manipulates temporal certainty during threat-of-shock.
In particular, Claire’s masters focused on the dose-dependent consequences of acute alcohol intoxication on the two major divisions of the central extended amygdala–the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis and the central nucleus of the amygdala.
This work builds on prior mechanistic studies in rodents and psychophysiological findings in humans, and helps set the stage for more integrative and bidirectional translational models to elucidate mechanisms underlying anxiety and substance abuse.
The supervising committee consisted of Drs. Alex Shackman, Luiz Pessoa, Ed Bernat, and Matthew Roesch.
The Shackman lab is out and about! Please join us for what promises to be a fun and interesting series of talks and symposia!
SOBP in San Diego. Darn, too late!
APS meeting in Boston: May 26, 2017, 2:30-3:50 PM, Constitution B: New directions on the affective consequences of interpersonal relationships: Mechanisms, individual differences, and relationship characteristics (Venaglia, Lemay, Shackman, Cheung, & Clark)
ARP meeting in Sacramento: June 9, 2017, 9:00-10:15 AM: Personality among the primates: A phylogenetic and neurobiological excursion (DeYoung, Shackman, Fox, Latzman & Grazioplen)
University of Iowa, Department of Psychology: October 27, 2017.
Yale, Department of Psychology, Neuroscience series: November 17th, 2017.
Shackman, A. J., Fox, A. S., Oler, J. A., Shelton, S. E., Oakes, T. R., Davidson, R. J. & Kalin, N. H. (2017). Heightened extended amygdala metabolism following threat characterizes the early phenotypic risk to develop anxiety-related psychopathology. Molecular Psychiatry, 22, 724-32.
The 2016-17 UMD combined colloquia series has been amazing, providing members of the lab with a number of outstanding opportunities for discussing our work with outside experts, including Jonathan Fadok, Katia Harle, Sabine Kastner, Hedy Kober, Liz Phelps, Russ Poldrack, Kerry Ressler, and Lucina Uddin. Still to come, presentations from Todd Braver and Michael Platt.
In addition, a number of outstanding scientists will be descending on Baltimore next week for the annual Maryland Neuroimaging Retreat, including Lauren Atlas, Catherine Bushnell, Cam Craddock, Martin Lindquist, Ben Seymour, Tor Wager and our very own, Alex Shackman. Please consider joining us for what promises to be an exciting series of talks and panel discussions.
Candidates are being considered for a NIMH-funded postdoctoral position in the laboratory of Dr. Alex Shackman in the Department of Psychology at the University of Maryland at College Park (http://shackmanlab.org/). The overarching mission of the lab is to have a deep impact on the fields of affective and translational neuroscience. To that end, we do our best to perform innovative studies that can lead to significant discoveries, to disseminate our discoveries as widely as possible, and to mentor trainees to become top-notch scientists. As part of a recently awarded R01 (MH107444), the major focus of this position will be on understanding the neural circuitry underlying fear and anxiety and its role in the development of anxiety disorders, depression, and substance abuse in young adults. A secondary focus will be on linking variation in the function of that circuitry to thoughts, feelings, and behavior in the real-world, indexed using ecological momentary assessment (EMA) techniques. Eye-tracking measures of attention and peripheral physiological measures of arousal will also be incorporated. There will be opportunities to become involved in other projects and to develop new analytic strategies. We are particularly excited about candidates with a strong background in fMRI methods, but will also consider those with expertise in other areas of affective neuroscience or clinical psychology. Applicants should have a Ph.D. in a relevant field; strong publication record; expertise in human cognitive, affective, or clinical/translational neuroscience; and excellent organizational and interpersonal skills. This is an excellent opportunity for receiving top-notch mentorship in affective/translational neuroscience in a highly productive environment. This is a 1 year position that is renewable for a total of 3 years, contingent on performance and funding. Applicants should send a cover letter describing relevant experience and interests, CV, and contact information for 3 references to Dr. Shackman (firstname.lastname@example.org). Applicants will be considered until the position is filled. The University of Maryland is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative-Action Employer.
Shackman, A. J., Kaplan, C. M., Stockbridge, M. D., Tillman, R. M., Tromp, D. P. M., Fox, A. S., & Gamer, M. (2016). The neurobiology of dispositional negativity and attentional biases to threat: Implications for understanding anxiety disorders in adults and youth. Journal of Experimental Psychopathology, 7, 311-42. Special issue focused on “Risk and resilience in anxiety: Exploring the roles of attentional bias and attentional control in development” (J. A. Hadwin, L. Visu-Petra, C. MacLeod, N. Derakshan & P. Muris, Editors).
Post-baccalaureate Position in Affective and Clinical/Translational Neuroscience
University of Maryland, College Park, MD
Candidates are being considered for a NIH-funded post-baccalaureate (study coordinator) position in the laboratory of Dr. Alex Shackman in the Department of Psychology at the University of Maryland at College Park (http://shackmanlab.org/). The overarching mission of the lab is to have a deep impact on the fields of affective and clinical/translational neuroscience. To that end, we do our best to perform innovative studies that can lead to significant discoveries, to disseminate our discoveries as widely as possible, and to mentor trainees to become top-notch scientists. As part of several recent NIH awards, the focus of this position will be to support on-going projects aimed at understanding the neurobiology of fear and anxiety and its role in the development and maintenance of adult anxiety disorders, depression, and substance abuse. This position will provide opportunities to gain experience with neuroimaging (fMRI), ecological momentary assessment (EMA), eye-tracking, psychophysiological, and clinical interviewing techniques. This is an exciting opportunity for receiving top-notch mentorship and establishing a competitive research record in preparation for graduate school. This is a 1 year position that is renewable for a total of 2 years, contingent on performance and funding. Duties may include, but are not limited to, subject recruitment, data acquisition using behavioral and neuroimaging techniques, study management, database management, data processing/analysis, and lab management. We are particularly excited about candidates with a background in imaging methods, programming, digital signal processing, quantitative methods, statistics, or related areas. Applicants should send a cover letter describing relevant experience and interests, CV/resume, and 2-3 letters of reference to Dr. Shackman (email@example.com). Applicants will be considered until the position is filled. The University of Maryland is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative-Action Employer.
Read more about the NIMH R01 project here and here. Read more about the NIDA R21 project here and here.
Richard Hum, an RA in the lab, was recently accepted into the Biology Honors Program, joining a long list of lab RA’s who have participated in similar campus programs, including the Biological Sciences Honors Internship Program, Integrated Life Sciences (ILS) Honors Program, Research Internship in Science and Engineering (RISE) Scholarship Program, and Summer Research Initiative (SRI) Fellowship Program. Congrats, Richard!
A very warm welcome to our newest post-baccalaureate staff person, Allegra Anderson! Allegra will be providing administrative support and supporting data collection for our NIH funded R01 and R21 projects.
Congratulations to graduate student Rachael Tillman, who received a fellowship that will enable her to attend the upcoming Tools of the Trade Workshop at UCLA. The workshop is jointly sponsored by the National Institutes of Health and Stanford Center for Reproducible Neuroscience. Read more about the imaging workshop here.
Rachael successfully defended her master’s project.
This functional MRI project is focused on clarifying the architecture of functional architecture of circuits centered on the two major divisions of the central extended amygdala–the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis and the central nucleus of the amygdala–in a large sample of healthy, community dwelling adults. This work lays a basic neuroscience foundation for understanding alterations of these circuits in psychiatric populations.
The supervising committee consisted of Drs. Alex Shackman, Elizabeth Redcay, Luiz Pessoa, and Nathan Fox.
Please note that the major focus of this position will be on neural circuitry underlying fear and anxiety in young adults. A secondary focus will be on linking variation in the function of that circuitry to thoughts, feelings, and behavior in the real-world, indexed using ecological momentary assessment (EMA) techniques. Eye-tracking measures of attention and peripheral physiological measures of arousal will also be incorporated. We are particularly excited about candidates with a passion for fear/anxiety and a strong background in imaging, programming, digital signal processing, or related areas.
This research is funded by the University of Maryland and the National Institutes of Health.
Shackman, A. J., Tromp, D. P. M., Stockbridge, M. D., Kaplan, C. M., Tillman, R. M. & Fox, A. S. (2016). Dispositional negativity: An integrative psychological and neurobiological perspective. Psychological Bulletin, 142, 1275-1314.
Thanks to generous support from the National Institutes of Health, lab members now have access to a total of 4 servers (Badger, Ferret, Fisher, and Polecat), which will enable us to keep abreast with a growing flood of new imaging and peripheral physiological data.
If you’re curious, you can read more of the details here.
Congratulations to Claire Kaplan, who was honored with a travel award by the Society for Research in Psychopathology for her poster entitled ‘Understanding the neurobiology of fear and anxiety.’ This a huge honor only given to the top 5% of posters at the meeting. Claire’s project leverages a combination of multiband functional MRI and a novel MultiThreat Countdown task to characterize the neural systems engaged by certain and uncertain threat.
The lab provides an excellent opportunity to get hands-on experience with data collection. It’s a great way to prepare for successful careers in research (graduate school, postbac fellowships at the NIH and Lieber Institute, NSF REU fellowships) or medicine (medical school)!
Learn more about the lab’s philosophy and mission here. Or, explore our website to find out more about the exciting kinds of research conducted by our team.
In order to apply, please download the application form. Email the completed application and an unofficial copy of your transcripts to Dr. Shackman (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Shackman, A. J. & Fox, A. S. (2016). Contributions of the central extended amygdala to fear and anxiety. Journal of Neuroscience, 36, 8050-63.
Claire Kaplan’s poster focused on “Understanding the neurobiology of fear and anxiety” was selected as one of the preliminary finalists for the Smadar Levin Student Poster Award by the Society for Research in Psychopathology (SRP). Congratulations!
To learn more about SRP, please visit their website.
The National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) has awarded a $418,000 grant to the University of Maryland to support research aimed at understanding the neurobiology of nicotine dependence.
Nearly 50 million Americans smoke tobacco and smoking is the leading cause of premature death and disability in the US. The grant will support a team of researchers, led by Professor Alex Shackman in the Department of Psychology at Maryland, who plan to use state-of-the-art brain imaging techniques and smart-phone technology to clarify, for the first time, the relevance of anxiety-related brain circuits to chronic tobacco use and acute nicotine withdrawal in humans—a critical step toward the development of new, brain-based cessation aids.
Dr. Shackman notes that, “while the transition from tobacco use to nicotine dependence is associated with long-lasting changes in multiple emotional and motivational mechanisms, most neurobiological research in humans has focused on reward-related systems. This is unfortunate because heightened anxiety is a hallmark of nicotine deprivation and there is compelling evidence that anxiety and negative affect powerfully motivate nicotine dependence and relapse.”
The investigators plan to use functional MRI (fMRI) to quantify anxiety-related brain function in abstinent and non-abstinent tobacco smokers. Mobile phone technology will be used to assess smoker’s daily perceptions of stress, anxiety, depression, and craving, as well as actual smoking behavior. According to Dr. Shackman, this project “will provide an important first opportunity to see whether models of addiction developed in rodents apply to humans and hopefully will inform the development of new treatments for tobacco addiction.”
Other members of the investigative team include Dr. Jason Smith in the Department of Psychology at Maryland; Dr. Luiz Pessoa, Director of the Maryland Neuroimaging Center; Dr. Megan Piper from the Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention at the University of Wisconsin-Madison; and Dr. John Curtin in the Department of Psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
7/11/2016 | College Park, MD USA
Wager, T. D., Atlas, L. Y., Botvinick, M., Chang, L., Coghill, R. C., Davis, K. D., Ianetti, G. D., Poldrack, R. A., Shackman, A. J., & Yarkoni, T. (2016). Pain in the ACC? Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 113, E2474-75.
The National Science Foundation has awarded a prestigious Graduate Research Fellowship to Claire Kaplan, a second year graduate student in the laboratory. This will provide three years of support for her exciting program of neuropsychopharmacology research.
It’s common knowledge that a drink or two reduces anxiety. While the molecular underpinnings of this anti-anxiety effect is well established, remarkably little is known about the brain networks that mediate the anxiety-reducing effects of alcohol or other widely used anxiolytic medications. Claire’s work aims to address this fundamental question. Her on-going research is focused on establishing the influence of different doses of alcohol on the function of brain circuits implicated in fear and anxiety. Another project, still in design stages, will focus on the impact of the benzodiazepines, a drug commonly prescribed for patients suffering from extreme anxiety. This program of research promises important new insights into the mechanisms that support pathological anxiety and contribute to the development of addiction. Ultimately, it promises to inform the development of more precise treatments for a range of common, often debilitating mental illnesses.
Claire’s research builds on the strengths of an international team of scientific collaborators, including Dr. Jason Smith, in the Department of Psychology at Maryland; Dr. Luiz Pessoa, Director of the Maryland Neuroimaging Center; Dr. John Curtin, in the Department of Psychology at the University of Wisconsin; and Dr. Siri Leknes, Oslo University Hospital, Oslo, Norway.
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) has awarded a 3.4 million dollar grant to the University of Maryland to support research aimed at understanding the mechanism that that promote the development of pathological anxiety and depression.
A growing body of data shows that these disorders impose a staggering burden on public health and the global economy, making them a growing concern for clinicians, researchers, and public policy makers. The anxiety disorders are the most common family of mental illnesses in the US and Europe and often contribute to the development of depression and substance abuse. Existing treatments are inconsistently effective or associated with significant side effects.
The new grant will support an international team of researchers, led by Professor Alex Shackman in the Department of Psychology at Maryland, who plan to use state-of-the-art brain imaging techniques, clinical measures, and smart-phone technology to clarify the mechanisms that support to the development and recurrence of anxiety disorders and depression—a critical step toward the development of new, brain-based strategies for preventing or treating these illnesses.
“This is a really exciting project, notes Dr. Shackman, “These disorders contribute to the suffering and misery of millions of patients and their loved ones all over the world, including many students at Maryland and other universities. The pipeline for developing new drugs is stalled. It’s imperative that we identify the brain circuits that underlie extreme anxiety and get a better handle on their relevance to changes in mood and function in the real world, close to the kinds of end-points that patients, families, and clinicians care about.”
One of the goals of the project is to use smart-phone technology to sample feelings, behavior, stress, and social support in college freshmen. “This is really one of the most novel and exciting parts of the project,” says Dr. Shackman. “I think the research community has done a great job using brain imaging techniques in people and more mechanistic interventions in rodents and monkeys to identify candidate circuits, networks in the brain that control anxiety. But we know almost nothing about whether any of those circuits actually predict anxiety, depression, or stress-reactivity where it matters, out in the real world. Here, we plan to use the smart-phones to intensively sample our subjects’ daily experience repeatedly for 30 months, as they transition from freshman year, to sophomore year, to junior and even senior year of university. We can then link those measures of experience and behavior back to measures of brain function collected during their freshman year, which we hope will enable us to discover patterns of brain function that predict who gets sick, who gets depressed, who starts drinking by themselves to cope with their stress.”
These data may provide new targets for drug development and guide the development of improved animal models of mental illness. “And it’s not just drugs,” Shackman emphasized, “this might give us some really important new clues about ways to better identify high-risk individuals before they get sick, and guide them into prevention programs focused on developing more effective coping skills. And the smart phone data may help us to develop better mobile apps for treating or even preventing these disorders, before relationships are strained, before performance in school or the workplace really starts to suffer.”
Other members of the international investigative team include Dr. Jason Smith in the Department of Psychology at Maryland; Drs. Greg Hancock and Nathan Fox in the Department of Human Development and Quantitative Methodology at Maryland; Dr. Luiz Pessoa, Director of the Maryland Neuroimaging Center; Dr. Todd Kashdan in the Department of Psychology at George Mason University; and Dr. Matthias Gamer in the Department of Psychology at the University of Würzburg, Germany.
To learn more about anxiety disorders and depression, please visit the Anxiety and Depression Association of America website.
In a project spearheaded by Dr. Helen Weng, we demonstrated that compassion training can increase prosocial behavior and is associated with changes in a complex network of brain regions involved in social cognition and emotion regulation. This work provides preliminary scientific evidence that compassion can be systematically trained and that increased altruism emerges from changes in the brain.
The Fuel Happiness campaign is designed to spread the news about recent meditation and mindfulness research and, in so doing, encourage all of us to to take a few moments to cultivate an increased sense of compassion for themselves and others.
Weng, H. Y., Fox, A. S., Shackman, A. J., Stodola, D. E., Caldwell, J. Z. K., Olson, M. C., Rogers, G. M. & Davidson, R. J. (2013). Compassion training alters altruism and the neural responses to suffering. Psychological Science,24, 1171-80.
The rostral cingulate cortex—the thick belt of tissue encircling the corpus callosum—plays a central role in contemporary models of emotion, pain, and cognitive control (https://tinyurl.com/hvld5yd). Work in these three basic domains has, in turn, profoundly influenced contemporary perspectives on more complex phenomena, including social cognition and a variety of neuropsychiatric disorders (https://tinyurl.com/neb48x9).
Despite this progress, the functional architecture and significance of activity in the rostral cingulate cortex remains enigmatic. We still don’t have a definitive answer to the question, What exactly does the cingulate ‘do’?
In a recent high-profile report (https://tinyurl.com/ofnxhtp), Matt Lieberman and Naomi Eisenberger make 3 extraordinary claims about the function of the dorsal or mid-cingulate cortex (‘dACC/MCC’), the region shown in green and magenta region in the accompanying figure:
1. We’re labeling it incorrectly. Lieberman and Eisenberger suggest that a substantial number of prior reports mis-labeled activation clusters lying in the more dorsal supplementary motor area (SMA) and pre-SMA as dACC/MCC:
“studies focused on the dACC are more likely to be reporting SMA/pre-SMA activations than dACC activations.”
2. We’re asleep at the wheel—Cognitive control does not reflect dACC/MCC. Lieberman and Eisenberger claim that standard lab assays of cognitive conflict and control—including the widely used Stroop, Eriksen flanker, Go/No-Go, and Stop signal tasks—do not produce robust activation in the dACC/MCC, contrary to more than a decade’s worth of imaging studies…
As they note,
“for many of the terms, the lion’s share of the activity is…in the [more dorsal] SMA or pre-SMA [i.e. the region depicted in green]…[Indeed] the forward inference maps for…“stop signal,” [and] “Stroop” each have a relatively modest footprint [in the dACC/MCC proper; the region depicted in blue].
3. The dACC/MCC is selective for pain. Based on automated meta-analyses of hundreds of brain imaging studies—performed using tools available at Neurosynth.org—Lieberman and Eisenberger argue that:
“The only psychological phenomenon that can be reliably inferred given the presence of dACC activity is pain…The conclusion from the Neurosynth reverse inference maps is unequivocal: The dACC is involved in pain processing. When only forward inference data were available, it was reasonable to make the claim that perhaps dACC was not involved in pain per se, but that pain processing could be reduced to the dACC’s “real” function, such as executive processes, conflict detection, or salience responses to painful stimuli. The reverse inference maps do not support any of these accounts that attempt to reduce pain to more generic cognitive processes. As seen in Fig. 3, a whole slew of such terms show little or no evidence of being likely candidates to explain the psychological bases of dACC activity. Although some of these functions might be instantiated in the [more dorsal] SMA or pre-SMA, they do not seem to be reliably related to dACC activity”
Naturally, such extraordinary, high-profile claims are bound to attract critics and skepticism. One of the most damning critiques comes in the form of a series of blog posts written by Tal Yarkoni, the developer of the software that Lieberman and Eisenberger used for their analyses (https://tinyurl.com/nvt3vlr and https://tinyurl.com/hhmgxvu). The posts are thoughtful, comprehensive, at times cranky, and well worth reading in their entirety, but for Yarkoni the bottom line is that:
“No, the dorsal anterior cingulate is not selective for pain….Lieberman & Eisenberger (2015) argue, largely on the basis of evidence from my Neurosynth framework, that the dACC is selective for pain. They are wrong. Neurosynth does not—and, at present, cannot—support such a conclusion. Moreover, a more careful examination of Neurosynth results directly refutes Lieberman and Eisenberger’s claims, providing clear evidence that the dACC is associated with many other operations, and converging with extensive prior animal and human work to suggest a far more complex view of dACC function.”
In particular, Yarkoni notes that voxels in the dACC/MCC are likely to be recruited in studies of fear, cognitive control, and conflict (see the following figure adapted taken from his post). If you’re curious, you can generate and download the same reverse inference maps yourself over at www.Neurosynth.org.
Given these observations, Yarkoni concludes that,
“In every single one of these cases, we see significant associations with dACC activation in the reverse inference meta-analysis. The precise location of activation varies from case to case…but the point is that pain is clearly not the only process that activates dACC. So the notion that dACC is selective to pain doesn’t survive scrutiny even if you use [Lieberman and Eisenberger’s] own criteria.”
For what it’s worth, I agree with Yarkoni’s conclusion, which he arrives at entirely based on a consideration of the statistics (see especially his second post, https://tinyurl.com/hhmgxvu).
A neuroanatomical perspective on the dACC/MCC
My own concern with Lieberman and Eisenberger’s study—one not addressed in either Yarkoni’s critique or Lieberman and Eisenberger’s thoughtful rebuttal (https://tinyurl.com/ptvhmjm)—has nothing to do with meta-analysis, Bayes, or statistics per se.
From my perspective, the crux of this story comes down to neuroanatomy—What exactly is the dACC/MCC?—Which voxels should be considered ‘in’ and which should be left ‘out’?
The answer to this fundamental question is central to Lieberman and Eisenberger’s claim that cognitive conflict and control engage the SMA/pre-SMA, whereas pain (and perhaps related states of fear and anxiety) engage the dACC/MCC. To foreshadow my conclusion, in the remainder of this post I will describe why Lieberman and Eisenberger’s approach to identifying the dACC/MCC is problematic and how this undermines their remarkable inferences.
My motivation—It’s about the cingulate, not Lieberman & Eisenberger
As an aside, I want to briefly address my motives for joining the public conversation about Lieberman and Eisenberger’s paper.
First, in the spirit of transparency, my colleagues and I have invested considerable effort trying to understand the rostral cingulate. If you’re curious, you can read more about our take here (https://tinyurl.com/hpqmkwn) and here (https://tinyurl.com/np3d3nb). In brief, we have hypothesized that the dACC/MCC represents a hub, where information about punishment, errors, conflict, and other kinds of negative feedback is integrated and used to bias or control our thoughts, feelings, and actions in the face of uncertainty about actions and motivationally significant outcomes, such as punishment. One of the motivations for this hypothesis was evidence from imaging studies and neuronal recordings that tasks that elicit negative affect (e.g. fear), physical pain, or the need for increased cognitive control all recruit an overlapping territory in the anterior dACC/MCC.
Naturally, Lieberman and Eisenberger’s claim that dACC/MCC activation is specific to pain seems to run counter to the idea that this key brain region is consistently recruited across diverse psychological states. But, in their rebuttal to Yarkoni, Lieberman and Eisenberger clarify their conclusions in ways that ameliorate some of my initial concerns, arguing for example that they simply meant that “pain is a more reliable source of dACC activation than the other [i.e. cognitive] terms of interest” and that the dACC/MCC is, in fact, exquisitely sensitive to negative affect: “We have long posited that one of the functions of the dACC was to sound an alarm when certain kinds of conflict arise. We think the dACC is evoked by a variety of distress-related processes including pain, fear, and anxiety.” Still, their claims that the dACC/MCC is only weakly sensitive to demands for increased cognitive control was at odds with my own understanding of the literature and my interpretation of the maps that I could generate with a few button clicks in Neurosynth. So, I wanted to understand why we were reaching such different conclusions.
My second motive for entering this debate is more substantial and, hopefully, generative. I want to understand what the dACC/MCC does and leverage that understanding to guide the development of more effective interventions. My concern is that there is widespread misunderstanding about what constitutes the dACC/MCC. For example, in their blog posts, Lieberman, Eisenberger, and Yarkoni all seem to agree that the cluster in this next figure does not lie in the dACC/MCC—but based on the evidence that I review below, I believe that this is incorrect.
I hope that by reviewing what is known about the anatomy of the dACC/MCC and articulating some simple, concrete methodological recommendations for future imaging studies, it will accelerate our understanding; that the graduate students, post-docs, and PI’s who attempt to build on the published literature will adopt methods that permit stronger inferences about what the cingulate does.
Lieberman and Eisenberger fail to address individual variation in anatomy
Lieberman and Eisenberg describe the dACC/MCC as the
“section of the cingulate that sits above the corpus callosum…the cingulate sulcus is the dorsal boundary of the dACC. Above this sulcus are the supplementary and pre-supplementary motor areas (SMA and pre-SMA), which…are contained within the superior frontal gyrus.”
This is the only description in the paper of how they prescribed their dACC/MCC region-of-interest (ROI; the blue region in the next figure). Fortunately, we can reverse engineer what they probably did. Close inspection of their figures suggests that the dACC/MCC ROI was manually prescribed on the Colin27 brain (https://tinyurl.com/o55nffe; left panel below), which is simply the average of 27 anatomical scans of a single adult man (the eponymous Dr. Colin J. Holmes, shown in the right panel) in standard stereotaxic space (https://tinyurl.com/q2jqgeu).
What’s wrong with relying on the brain of one Canadian scientist for drawing the dACC/MCC ROI? After all, they’ve given us Hebb, Penfield, the MNI, and Tim Horton’s right? Well, as the developers of the Colin27 template note:
“this dataset was not originally intended for use as a stereotaxic template… As a single brain atlas, it did not capture anatomical variability and was, to some degree, a reversion to the [outdated] Talairach approach.”
In other words, Lieberman and Eisenberger conducted meta-analyses based on hundreds of brain imaging studies, collectively encompassing thousands of individual subjects, each with their own idiosyncratic brain.Each one of those thousands of brains was ‘warped’ (i.e. ‘registered’ or ‘normalized’) to a standard brain template by the original investigative teams. This standardization not only allowed those investigators to compute group statistics, it‘s also what makes it possible to conduct large-scale meta-analyses in Neurosynth or other software packages (http://brainmap.org)—all of the activation peaks are reported in the same 3D Cartesian space (more or less; https://tinyurl.com/hjqy6r5).
The problem is that the warping process is imperfect; there are errors in how well each brain is registered to the template, especially in studies relying on earlier generations of warping techniques (like the well-known Talairach and Tournoux stereotaxic technique; https://tinyurl.com/o83ksuk). So, it’s not appropriate to think of features of the brain—like the dACC/MCC—as a crisp point or line, as in the left panel of the following figure.
Given registration errors across many, many individual brains, it’s better to think of these features in a more probabilistic way (as in the right panel above), which is why most investigators (and NeuroSynth) use brain templates that were generated by averaging across tens or hundreds of warped brains, as in the popular MNI152 template shown below (https://tinyurl.com/zgjv4a3).
In sum, the Colin27 brain template (apparently) used by Lieberman and Eisenberger conveys a false sense of precision about the sulcus separating the cingulate from the overlying SMA/pre-SMA. But this is only the first part of what is really a compound problem. As it turns out, we probably do not want to rely on just the cingulate sulcus, let alone just Colin’s cingulate sulcus.
Lieberman and Eisenberger define the dACC/MCC in an arbitrary manner
It’s worth pausing for a moment and considering how the rostral cingulate has traditionally been defined on the basis of invasive studies of cellular morphology and chemistry. The neuroanatomist Korbinian Brodmann (https://tinyurl.com/glex9gp) first defined the rostral cingulate as the complex formed by architectonic areas 24, 32, 25, and 33. Of these, areas 24, 32, and 33 (marked with red circles below) constitute the subdivision lying dorsal to the corpus callosum (dACC/MCC).
As shown in the next figure, much of the cortical gray matter that makes up the dACC/MCC lies buried in sulci and is not visible in sagittal images. For brains—like Colin’s or that shown in the next figure—that only have a single cingulate sulcus, Lieberman and Eisenberger’s dACC/MCC ROI probably does a pretty good job. As shown in upper right panel (https://tinyurl.com/hvld5yd), as long as they included the voxels located in the dorsal bank of the cingulate sulcus (shown in purple), their ROI would encompass all of the dACC/MCC (i.e. areas 33, 24, and 32).
Whether that’s the case is unknown; the ROI protocol is not described in Lieberman and Eisenberger’s report and they do not show any coronal images. It’s not really any more clear in their rebuttal to Yarkoni, although it looks like they may be missing some of the dorsal bank (technical aside: the green line demarcating the dACC/MCC region is not a genuine 3D ROI and is clearly for illustrative purposes only).
Lieberman and Eisenberger fail to account for variation in cingulate anatomy, revisited
If you accept the historical definition of dACC/MCC described above—dACC/MCC = areas 24′, 32′, and 33’—then the real problem comes from the fact that there are marked individual differences in the gross anatomy of the rostral cingulate, differences that often push area 32′ into the gray matter overlying the cingulate sulcus.
“there is considerable variability in the paracingulate sulcus (PCgS), a tertiary sulcus that is present in about one-half of the population and more prominent in the left hemisphere (see the following figure, part a). The presence of this sulcus exerts a strong impact on the layout and relative volume of the architectonic areas comprising [dACC/MCC]…In particular, area 32’, which is otherwise found in the depths of the cingulate sulcus (CgS), expands to occupy the crown of the external cingulate gyrus (ECgG; the ‘superior’ or ‘paracingulate’ gyrus)…[In short] the size and spatially normalized location of the [dACC/MCC] can vary substantially across individuals…Accounting for such individual differences may permit a clearer separation of intermingled affective, nociceptive and cognitive processes [in this region]”
This is not a rare or isolated effect. As shown above, Brodmann himself depicts area 32 as lying between the cingulate (orange arrows) and paracingulate sulci (red arrows).
Likewise, Vogt and colleagues emphasize that,
“Area 24c is located on the dorsal bank of the cingulate gyrus and the ventral bank of the superior cingulate gyrus [often termed the ‘paracingulate’ gyrus] and it extends rostral to the genu but not into subgenual ACC…Area 32 is located mainly on the [paracingulate gyrus]…”
From this perspective, Lieberman and Eisenberger’s blue dACC/MCC blob, which stops at Colin’s cingulate sulcus, probably omits a substantial portion of area 32’ for many of the individual brains that underlie their meta-analyses. This is particularly problematic because cognitive neuroscientists generally regard area 32’ as the cingulate region most closely involved in cognitive conflict and control (https://tinyurl.com/p8krylv).
Lieberman and Eisenberger acknowledge these kinds of concerns in the Supplement to their report:
“There is substantial sulcal variability within the dACC….The critical question, then, is whether effects we have designated as outside the dACC…might be in the dACC after all.”
But quickly dismiss them:
“There is no way to definitively rule out this possibility in the current study. Neurosynth doesn’t have coding for individual participant morphology. Moreover, almost no fMRI studies account for these individual differences. The vast majority of fMRI studies overlook most individual differences in neuroanatomy and depend on the probabilistic neuroanatomy averaged across a group of participants and then on standard atlases that typically don’t take these individual differences into account.”
In fact, as we have just seen there are at least two simple, concrete ways to begin to address variation in cingulate anatomy:
Use a probabilistic template, like the MNI152, that ‘bakes in’ information about warping (registration) error and variation in cingulate neuroanatomy
Define the dACC/MCC ROI in a way that is consistent with well-established macroscopic anatomical borders; like Brodmann, Vogt, and many other investigators include the paracingulate (‘superior cingulate’) gyrus as well as voxels located in the depths of the cingulate and paracingulate sulci.
Sound like too much work? In fact, the ROI can be defined automatically using freely available probabilistic atlas labels. For example, the Harvard-Oxford atlas (https://tinyurl.com/h3m8b8w), which is included with many imaging software packages, is based on the overlap of labels generated from high-resolution anatomical scans obtained from 37 men and women of varying ages.
Applying these simple recommendations yields a very different, rather boring conclusion
Let’s see what happens when you use a probabilistic template, a probabilistic atlas, and include all of the dACC/MCC. Here is the reverse inference map reported by Lieberman and Eisenberger for studies of ‘conflict.’
The white traces indicate their dACC/MCC (lower region) and the SMA/pre-SMA (upper region) ROI’s overlaid on Colin’s brain. Uh, oh! It looks like most of the ‘conflict’ cluster (in blue) lies in the SMA/pre-SMA (upper white region).
Here is the same map re-created using Neurosynth and overlaid on the MNI152 brain at FDR q < .01 (MNI coordinates = 7/26/35). Now it looks like the cluster (in red; colors are arbitrary) is squarely centered on the cingulate sulcus.
Here’s another view of the same map thresholded at Z > 7.0 to emphasize local maxima. The upper 3 panels are centered at MNI coordinates 7/26/35, which corresponds to a 46% probability of lying in the paracingulate gyrus and a 36% probability of lying in the anterior division of the cingulate gyrus in the Harvard-Oxford probabilistic atlas. The lower panel is centered at 7/15/41 (52% paracingulate, 28% anterior cingulate gyrus, and 1% supplementary motor cortex). The Harvard-Oxford atlas indicates that there is a very low probability that these maxima lie in the superior frontal gyrus or supplementary motor cortex, contrary to a SMA/pre-SMA label. Inspection of the coronal images (on the far left side of the figure) indicates that the local maxima lie in the dorsal bank of the cingulate sulcus, which is consistent with the current consensus about the role of area 32’ in monitoring cognitive conflict. My intuition is that Brodmann, Vogt, and most other investigators would label these maxima as dACC/MCC. In contrast, if we project these two points onto the sagittal plane (x=3) used in Lieberman and Eisenberger’s report and display them on Colin’s brain (right-most panels), we would draw the erroneous conclusion that they fall in the overlying SMA/pre-SMA.
Importantly, this conclusion is not specific to ‘conflict.’ A number of other, closely related reverse-inference maps in Neurosynth show similar effects, including ‘Control’ (8/8/42; 44% cingulate gyrus anterior division, 20% paracingulate, 11% supplementary motor), ‘Errors’ (4/26/36; 63% paracingulate and 37% cingulate), ‘Stop Signal’ (6/32/34; 73% paracingulate, 9% cingulate gyrus anterior division, and 1% superior frontal gyrus), and ‘Stroop’ (6/22/38; 55% paracingulate gyrus and 27% cingulate gyrus anterior division).
In short, when probabilistic methods and longstanding definitions of the dACC/MCC are employed, we arrive at the much less extraordinary claim that tasks that demand top-down control engage the dACC/MCC.
So what does all of this neuroanatomy mean for Lieberman and Eisenberger’s three key claims and for past and future research more generally?
We’re mostly labeling it correctly. Lieberman and Eisenberger claim that a substantial number of prior reports mis-labeled activation clusters in the SMA/pre-SMA as dACC/MCC. This is wrong. It reflects the inappropriate use of Colin’s brain and an idiosyncratic definition of dACC/MCC that excludes regions of the brain that have been considered part of the dACC/MCC for over a century. In all likelihood, a substantial portion of area 32’ was excluded from Lieberman and Eisenberger’s dACC/MCC ROI. As a consequence, voxels lying in this region were erroneously attributed to the more dorsal SMA/pre-SMA.
We’re not asleep at the wheel. Lieberman and Eisenberger claim that standard cognitive conflict tasks do not produce robust activation in the dACC/MCC. As I have shown here, this claim is wrong; it reflects a failure to properly address individual differences in cingulate neuroanatomy. When even a minimal effort is made to address this variation—by simply employing probabilistic templates and atlases—the results are consistent with the widespread belief that cognitive conflict tasks robustly engage the dACC/MCC in the probable location of area 32’.
The dACC/MCC is not selective for pain. Based on the analyses described in Yarkoni’s rebuttal and the concerns that I have outlined here, I believe that Lieberman and Eisenberger’s central claim is also wrong. In fact, the weight of the evidence—from fMRI studies and otherwise—is consistent with the idea that the dACC/MCC is recruited by a range of emotional, nociceptive, and cognitive challenges, as we and many others have repeatedly emphasized. It may well be the case that emotion, pain, and cognitive control are segregated at a finer level of anatomical resolution (e.g. deep vs. superficial or rostral vs. caudal or sulcal vs. gyral subdivisions of dACC/MCC; as we have noted https://tinyurl.com/hvld5yd), but this was neither the aim nor the conclusion of Lieberman and Eisenberger’s remarkable report.
Read the guest blog, detailing recent work by our group to decipher the brain circuitry underlying extreme anxiety early in development, at EmotionNews (http://emotionnews.org/amgydala).
Bradford, D. E., Starr, M. J., Shackman, A. J. & Curtin, J. J. (2015). Empirically based comparisons of the reliability and validity of common quantification approaches for eyeblink startle potentiation in humans. Psychophysiology, 52, 1669-81.
Graduate student Claire Kaplan provides hands-on science outreach to local middle school students as part of Brain Awareness Week
Middle school students from the greater Washington, D.C. area rolled up their sleeves and took part in numerous hands-on activities related to Brain Awareness Week (BAW), held March 16-20 at the National Museum of Health and Medicine (NMHM) in Silver Spring, Md.
The week-long classroom saw students learn first-hand from subject matter experts about such topics as the function of brain neurons, the four lobes of the human brain, the effects of drugs or alcohol on an individual’s neurotransmitters and how the brain and spinal cord work together to control emotions and physical well-being.
Shackman elected to the Executive Board of the neuroscience training program
Dr. Shackman was recently elected to the board of the Neuroscience and Cognitive Science (NACS) program at UMD. To learn more, please visit the NACS website http://www.nacs.umd.edu/.
Shackman Lab Awarded Campus Seed Grant to Understand the Neurobiology of Addiction and Withdrawal
Drs. Alex Shackman (co-PI), Laura MacPherson (co-PI), Luiz Pessoa, John Curtin (Wisconsin), and Megan Piper (Wisconsin) were awarded a Level II Dean’s Research Initiative grant from the College of Behavioral & Social Sciences. Tobacco smoking is the leading preventable cause of death and disability in the U.S. and many other countries around the world. This award will support collaborative research aimed at understanding the large-scale neural systems underlying the persistently elevated distress and anxiety characteristic of acute withdrawal from nicotine. Mechanistic work in rodents suggests that enduring alterations in these systems help to maintain chronic tobacco use and dependence, but the relevance of this circuitry to humans is unknown. This innovative study, which combines advanced brain imaging techniques with intensive assessments of daily mood and addiction-relevant behavior, promises to address this key question and guide the development of improved interventions for nicotine dependence and other addictions.
Data collection for second fMRI study completed!
Data collection for the lab’s second fMRI study at the University of Maryland is complete. This collaborative project is focused on identifying the distributed neural circuitry underlying pervasive states of anxiety elicited by uncertain threat, a key feature of extreme dispositional anxiety and the anxiety disorders. Anxiety disorders are a leading source of human suffering and a tremendous burden on public health. These disorders, which first emerge early in life, are common, debilitating, and contribute to the development of co-morbid depression and substance abuse. Existing treatments are inconsistently effective or associated with significant adverse effects, underscoring the importance of developing a deeper understanding of the neural systems involved in sustained anxiety. This work promises to enhance our understanding of how emotional traits, like neuroticism, modulate risk, facilitate the discovery of novel biomarkers, and set the stage for developing improved interventions. From a basic psychological science perspective, our research begins to address fundamental questions about the origins of personality and temperament. Material support for this study came from the University of Maryland. Key collaborators include Luiz Pessoa (UMCP) and Matthias Gamer (University of Würzburg).
Congratulations to Jennifer Weinstein, Recipient of a UMD Research Award!
Congratulations to Jennifer Weinstein! She has recently been recognized as one of three psychology undergraduate students named among UMD’s Undergraduate Researchers of the Year for 2015. This honor includes a $1000 award, a commemorative plaque, and recognition during the opening ceremonies for Undergraduate Research Day, held from 1-4 p.m. on Wednesday, April 29 in the Grand Ballroom of the Adele H. Stamp Student Union. As a student honoree, she will be given the opportunity to present a poster on her research and accomplishments.
Congratulations to second year graduate student, Rachael Tillman. Rachael’s National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship was highlighted for an honorable mention. Each year, ~14,000 applications are submitted by top students at research-intensive graduate programs around the country. Approximately 2,000 applications (14%) are awarded and another 2,000 receive honorable mentions.
Congrats to new masters candidates!
Congratulations to Melissa Stockbridge, Rachael Tillman, and Claire Kaplan, who all successfully defended their masters project proposals. The three projects represent exciting new collaborations with Luiz Pessoa (Maryland), Andy de Los Reyes (Maryland), Talma Hendler (Tel Aviv), Leah Somerville (Harvard), and John Curtin (Wisconsin).
Special Issue on Emotion-Cognition Interactions with commentary from the Shackman lab
We’re very pleased to announce the completion of a special issue of Frontiers in Human Neuroscience devoted to The Neurobiology of Emotion-Cognition interactions.
The special issue was edited by Talma Hendler (Tel Aviv), Hadas Okon-Singer (Haifa), Luiz Pessoa (Maryland) and Dr. Shackman and features 35 reports and reviews from leading investigators in North American, Israel, and Europe—more than 100 authors in all. This work encompasses a broad spectrum of populations and showcases a wide variety of exciting new paradigms, measures, analytic strategies, and conceptual approaches.
This work appears to be making a splash—already, the 35 contributions to this Special Topic have been viewed on the Frontiers website ~90,000 times, shared or posted to social media networks >16,000 times, downloaded >13,000 times, and cited ~90 times.
Symposium on the integration of emotion, pain, and cognition in the brain
We hope that many of you can join us for what promises to be an exciting symposium on the integration of emotion, pain, and cognition in the brain. Traditionally, these three fundamental mental faculties have been studied in a mono-disciplinary fashion, with separate silos–journals, conferences, societies–for affective, nociceptive, and cognitive neuroscientists. Yet, there is a growing recognition that emotion, pain, and cognition are tightly interwoven in the brain and share a number of common psychological features (see Shackman, Fox, & Seminowicz, in press). Pain, for example, grabs attention, elicits fear and vigilance, and promotes avoidance. Clarifying the underlying neural circuitry mandates a multi-disciplinary perspective. This symposium aims to facilitate this kind of cross-talk and cross-fertilization. Understanding the ways in which emotion, pain, and cognitive control are integrated in the brain is important, not just for our basic scientific understanding of the mind, but also for public health. Chronic pain, anxiety, and depression are common, costly, and challenging to treat. Understanding the shared circuitry would inform the development of novel intervention strategies for these complex, debilitating disorders.
The symposium is part of the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience and will occur on Monday November 17th at 1:30 PM in Room 145B (on the lobby level). The symposium was orchestrated by our close collaborator, Dave Seminowicz (UMD Baltimore), and will include presentations from Tor Wager (Boulder), Siri Leknes (Oslo), Ali Mazaheri (Amsterdam), & Signe Bray (Calgary).
Neuropeptide Y Study in the News
A recent study from the lab focused on understanding the role of Neuropeptide Y in the regulation of anxiety will be the subject of an accompanying commentary in the journal Biological Psychiatry. The study provided new evidence that higher levels of NPY1 and NPY5 receptor expression in the central nucleus of the amygdala are associated with reduced anxiety-related behaviors early in life, setting the stage for future work aimed at developing novel anxiety-reducing compounds. This is particularly important because anxiety disorders are among the most common psychiatric disorders and existing treatment options are inconsistently effective or associated with significant adverse effects.
Data collection for the lab’s first fMRI study conducted entirely at the University of Maryland is complete. This collaborative project is focused on identifying the neural circuitry shared by anxiety, pain, and executive cognition with a particular focus on circuits centered on the midcingulate cortex (MCC) and anterior insula (AI). In effect, the study is designed to address some of the most important challenges highlighted in Shackman et al, Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 2011. Key support for this study came from Medoc Advanced Medical Systems, which provided the thermal stimulator for delivering thermal stimulation, and the College of Behavioral & Social Sciences.
“Worry is Associated with Impaired Gating of Threat from Working Memory”
Recent results from the lab’s collaboration with Christine Larson and Danny Stout (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee) indicate that stable individual differences in the propensity to worry, a key maladaptive feature of many anxiety disorders, reflect inefficient filtering of anxiety-related distracters from working memory, the ‘blackboard of the mind.’ The results are consistent with the idea that, once anxiety-related information gains access to this mental blackboard, it’s poised to drive future thoughts, feelings, and actions in a manner that promotes sustained distress and arousal.
D.M. Stout, A.J. Shackman, J. S. Johnson & C.L. Larson. (in press). Emotion.
DRI Grant Awarded to the Lab
Drs. Alex Shackman (PI), Luiz Pessoa, and Dave Seminowicz (Universa basic ity of Maryland, Baltimore) were awarded a Level II Dean’s Research Initiative grant from the College of Behavioral & Social Sciences. The award will support collaborative research aimed at understanding the neural circuitry shared by anxiety, pain, and executive cognition. This line of research promises to clarify the emotional and cognitive symptoms characteristic of some pain disorders. It will also set the stage for work aimed at understanding the neural circuitry supporting the inhibited, avoidant profile of choices and behaviors characteristic of many individuals with extreme anxiety.
Data Collection for Our First Mobile Phone Experience Sampling Study is Complete!
Thanks to the heroic efforts of a number of research assistants in the lab, we have completed data collection for our first large-N experience sampling study. Elevated levels of neuroticism and dispositional anxiety confer liability for the development of anxiety disorders as well as co-morbid depression and substance abuse. Here, we focused on a demographically-diverse sample of individuals selected to have a broad range of this anxious phenotype. Self-reported mood, behavior, activity, whereabouts, stress exposure, and social engagement were intensively sampled (10 surveys/day) for a week, promising an unprecedented glimpse into the daily experience of individuals at risk for developing anxiety-related psychiatric disorders. In particular, this study affords an opportunity to clarify the nature of social and behavioral inhibition “in the wild” and set the stage for linking “deep phenotype” measures to brain activity and connectivity, indexed using functional MRI.
SAS Meeting (Bethesda)
Wonderful time at the SAS meeting catching up on the latest affective neuroscience and seeing old friends. Wonderful presentations by Tony Rangel (with an amazing introduction from Kevin Ochsner), Helen Mayberg, Richied Davidson, and Huda Akil.
Refining our understanding of adaptive control
Our collaborative project with Jim Cavanagh (University of New Mexico) was accepted for publication at the Journal of Physiology, Paris as part of a Special Issue focused on “Neural circuits for the adaptive control of behaviour,” edited by Jerome Sallet, Sebastien Bouret, Mark Laubach, and Dan Shulz. In the paper, Jim and I provide meta-analytic evidence that scalp-recorded control signals thought to be generated in the mid-cingulate cortex (MCC), such as the error-related negativity and N2, are consistently enhanced in dispositionally anxious individuals; and predict a more cautious, avoidant, and inhibited style of behavior following errors and punishment. The meta-analysis incorporated studies of more than 2,000 research subjects, enhancing our confidence in these results. These observations reinforce the idea that a circuit centered on the MCC plays a central role in regulating behavior in the face of uncertainty about instrumental actions and their potentially aversive outcomes and set the stage for future research aimed at delineating the neural mechanisms underlying the maladaptive profile of choices and actions characteristic of many individuals with elevated anxiety.
Cavanagh, J. F. & Shackman, A. J. (in press). Frontal midline theta reflects anxiety and cognitive control: Meta-analytic evidence. Journal of Physiology, Paris.”
Evolutionarily-conserved prefrontal-amygdalar dysfunction in early-life anxiety
Our resting-state fMRI paper was just accepted for publication at Molecular Psychiatry (2012 Impact Factor 14.897; #1/135 Psychiatry). In the report, we provide new evidence that extreme anxiety early in life is associated with aberrant functional integration between the central nucleus of the amygdala and prefrontal cortex. This pattern was discernible in lightly anesthetized young rhesus monkeys as well as quietly resting children with diagnosed anxiety disorders, indicating an evolutionarily conserved circuit, and opening the door to future mechanistic research. In the large sample of young non-human primates (n = 89), reduced functional connectivity was associated with elevated metabolic activity in the amygdala and chronically heightened anxiety, behavioral inhibition, and cortisol outside of the scanner. From a translational perspective, these findings provide a novel neurobiological framework for conceptualizing extreme anxiety and set the stage for the development of novel therapeutic strategies. From the vantage point of basic psychological science, they suggest that core features of our temperament and personality are embodied in the spontaneous, on-going activity of the brain.
ADAA Career Development Leadership Program 2014
The ADAA rolled out an exceptionally useful early-career professional development program. Excellent presentation by Charlie Nemeroff on grantsmanship and plenty of one-on-time to talk about funding strategies, lab management/administration, and other key topics with Ned Kalin, Kerry Ressler, and a fabulous group of young scientists and clinicians.
New Graduate Students
A very warm welcome to our three new graduate students: Claire Kaplan (Weinberger lab at Hopkins), Rachael Tillman (McPartland lab at the Yale Child Study Center), and Melissa Stockbridge (Newman lab, UMCP). Claire and Rachael will be starting in the clinical Ph.D. program in the Fall of 2014. Melissa is currently a doctoral student in the Department of Hearing & Speech Sciences and will be co-supervised by Dr. Shackman during the 2014-15 academic year.
Shackman Lab is Hiring Undergraduates!
We (http://shackmanlab.org) are looking for several undergraduate research assistants (RA’s) to assist with on-going projects focused on the neural substrates of anxiety. PHONES: One project uses mobile phone technology to assess anxious mood and behavior in the field. For the mobile phone study, we need RA’s available M/W 10:45am-1:15pm &/or T/R afternoon 1:45-5:15pm. fMRI: The other project uses fMRI to quantify anxiety-related brain activity and connectivity. For the fMRI study, we need RA’s available T/R 1-6pm &/or W 9am-4pm. Contact Dr. Shackman directly if you are interested (email@example.com).
New Book on Emotion
Oxford University Press has agreed to publish a new edition of The Nature of Emotion: Fundamental Questions, to be co-edited by Richie Davidson, Drew Fox, Regina Lapate, and Alex Shackman. The first edition, edited by Davidson and Paul Ekman and published in 1995, was a landmark in the study of emotion (http://www.amazon.com/The-Nature-Emotion-Fundamental-Questions/dp/0195089448). We’re immensely excited about the new edition, which will retain the unique question and short answer format of its predecessor, while delving more deeply into the neurobiology of emotion.
Symposia at ADAA and SoBP
Dr. Shackman will be chairing symposia focused on the neural substrates of extreme anxiety at the annual meetings of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America as well the Society of Biological Psychiatry. Other participants include Luiz Pessoa, Talma Hendler, Danny Pine, Leah Somerville, Dylan Gee, Drew Fox, and Ned Kalin. Join us for what promises to be two very exciting sets of talks.
January 14, 2014: Shackman Selected for ADAA Career Award
Dr. Alex Shackman has been selected to participate in the Anxiety and Depression Association of America’s Career Development Leadership Program. This is a highly competitive program and Dr. Shackman was selected from an extraordinarily accomplished application pool. Congratulations to Dr. Shackman!
December 20, 2013: Shackman Appointed to Journal Editorial Boards
Assistant Professor Alex Shackman has been appointed to the editorial boards of the APA journal Emotion and the Psychonomic Society’s journal Cognitive, Affective, and Behavioral Neuroscience
A Warm Welcome to Our New Staff Scientist!
We’re pleased to welcome Dr. Jason Smith, our new imaging data analyst, to the ATNL family. Jason brings a decade’s worth of experience with functional MRI processing and analysis, most recently in the Brain Imaging and Modeling Section, NIDCD.
My lab is looking to hire a programmer / IT staff person. We’re open to this being a position filled by an IT savvy post-bac prior to grad school, a grad student/postdoc looking to switch off the academic track, someone with a traditional IT background, or anything in between. Please have a very low threshold for contacting me to learn more about the position or suggest someone you know.