Harvard Catalyst Profiles

Contact, publication, and social network information about Harvard faculty and fellows.

Kerry J Ressler, M.D.,Ph.D.


Available: 10/01/17, Expires: 09/30/20

This project would have an HMS student join our clinical research team across a variety of specific research studies related to the study of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder following trauma exposure.

Using a variety of quantitative neurophysiology (EEG, EMG, startle, and galvanic skin response), neuroimaging (structural and functional MRI), genomic (genetic and epigenetic analyses from blood/saliva), and clinical research (clinician administered, behavioral and self-report data), we are collecting deep-phenotyping measures for understanding the nature of PTSD in civilian populations.

The student will have the opportunity to become skilled in clinical research at McLean Hospital related to Neuropsychiatric clinical research, specifically related to PTSD, Depression, and Anxiety, and to gain a working knowledge of a variety of neurophysiological approaches.

The student would be part of a research team, but would take the lead on specific neurophysiological analyses and manuscript writing and data presentation at various local and national venues. A few recent relevant manuscripts from this group include:
Duncan LE, et al., 2017, Molecular Psychiatry. 2017 10.1038/mp.2017.77. Ross DA, et al., 2017, JAMA Psychiatry. 74(4):407-415.
Stevens JS, et al., 2017, Biological Psychiatry. 81(12):1023-1029. Maddox SA, et al., 2017, Molecular Psychiatry. 10.1038/mp.2016.250.
Wingo AP, et al., 2015,Nature Communications. 6:10106.
Michopoulos V, 2015, Am J Psychiatry. 172(4):353-62.
Ressler KJ, et al (2011) Nature, 470: 492-497.

Available: 10/01/17, Expires: 09/30/20

The amygdala can be considered a ‘hub’ of emotional learning and memory. Furthermore, the neural plasticity that underlies associative learning, classical or Pavlovian conditioning, is relatively well understood, and the neural circuitry supporting threat or fear processing is among the most well-worked out circuits in behavioral neuroscience. In translation, fear-related disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder and phobia manifest in ways that are consistent with an uncontrollable state of fear. Their development involves heredity, previous sensitizing experiences, association of aversive events with previous neutral stimuli, and inability to inhibit or extinguish fear, leading to a chronic and disabling state following from the initial learned fear event. In many ways, the ‘over-learning of threats’ or ‘impaired extinction learning’ related to fear processing can be considered central to these debilitating disorders.

Work in our lab uses mouse models to study the neurobiology of fear learning and memory, differential genetic susceptibility to disorders of fear, and how these findings are being applied to the understanding, treatment and possible prevention of fear-related disorders, such as PTSD. Cutting edge approaches are being used to understand the genetic and epigenetic regulation at a cell-type specific level within amygdala, medial prefrontal, and hippocampal circuitry as it relates to fear extinction and neurobiologically-driven approaches to disorders of fear regulation. For the scholarly project, the student would be paired with a postdoctoral fellow and work under my supervision, focusing on a cell-type specific basis underlying fear and its inhibition. The project is likely to involve molecular biology, optogenetics, DREADD virus approaches following on some of our recently publications below:

Banerjee SB, et al (2017) Neuron, 95(1):169-179.e3.
McCullough KM, et al (2016) Nature Communications, Oct 21;7:13149.
Dias BG, et al (2014) Neuron, 83(4):906-18.
Andero R, et al (2014) Neuron, 83(2):444-54.
Ressler KJ, et al (2011) Nature, 470: 492-497.