An objective of the Ruth L. Kirschstein NRSA is to foster the training of clinical scientists with interests that coincide with its clinical research agenda. My sponsor and I have created a research training plan consistent with this objective. My career goal is to become a successful clinical scientist at a research-intensive university conducting translational affective neuroscience research on the emotional deficits associated with treatment- refractory negative symptoms in schizophrenia. My research training plan has specific goals to help me develop the skills necessary to achieve my career goal. During this training period, my goals are to develop and increase expertise in a) schizophrenia research and methodology, b) affective neuroscience research and data analysis, c) structured and semi-structured interviewing, and d) advanced statistical techniques. I will work towards these goals while carrying out two studies, one involving people with schizophrenia and one involving healthy college students.
The specific aims of my research proposal are to investigate whether anhedonia in schizophrenia is associated with poor controlled affective processing and whether controlled affective processing on an affective priming task in healthy college students is associated with medial prefrontal cortex activity. Anhedonia, or diminished experience of positive emotion for social or physical stimuli (Horan et al. 2006;Wolf, 2006) is a negative symptom of schizophrenia. Anhedonia is evident in the prodrome of schizophrenia (Hafner et al., 2003), and social anhedonia has been found to predict the onset of schizophrenia- spectrum disorders (Chapman et al., 1994;Kwapil, 1998;Gooding et al., 2005). Given that anhedonia involves decreased self-reported positive emotion, many psychopathologists have hypothesized that anhedonia might involve an emotional deficit (e.g., Berenbaum et al., 1987;Blanchard et al., 1994;Germans et al., 2000;Gooding et al., 2002). However, the exact nature of any emotional deficit in anhedonia is still unclear (Horan et al., 2006). I have found that anhedonia is associated with a controlled affective processing deficit in an at-risk population (e.g., Martin &Kerns, in press), but it is not known whether anhedonia in schizophrenia is associated with a similar deficit. In addition, to our knowledge, there has been no brain imaging research regarding the emotional functioning of people with elevated social anhedonia. However, before examining anhedonia in fMRI research, a crucial first step is to identify brain activity associated with controlled affective processing on an affective priming task, which has not been examined in previous fMRI research. This translational research will use affective neuroscience to help elucidate the emotional deficits associated with anhedonia in people with schizophrenia. In addition, this research takes an important first step towards understanding the neural correlates of anhedonia by investigating brain functioning associated with controlled affective processing in healthy controls.
Schizophrenia is chronic, debilitating mental illness that directly and indirectly affects the lives of millions of people. Negative symptoms in schizophrenia are especially difficult to treat and are associated with poor interpersonal and occupational functioning. Ultimately, it is hoped this program of research will aid in the prevention of schizophrenia-spectrum disorders and in the treatment of negative symptoms in schizophrenia.
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