This Career Development Award application is entitled "Functional Neuroiniaging of Reward and Motivation Deficits in Schizophrenia." The candidate will be an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania. He will be mentored by Drs. Raquel Gur and Ruben Gur, renowned for their research on emotional and cognitive deficits of schizophrenia. The proposal is motivated by the candidate's prior experiences studying the neurochemistry of reward as an MD-PhD student, caring for patients with schizophrenia as a psychiatrist, and using functional MRI (fMRI) to study schizophrenia pathophysiology as a postdoctoral fellow. Negative symptoms (social, motivational, and emotional deficits) of schizophrenia have a strong impact on functional disability. They present an urgent need for better understanding and more effective treatments. The study will focus on the ventral striatum (VS), which plays a key role in converting rewarding experiences into future motivation. The candidate's preliminary data links VS hypofunction to global severity of negative symptoms. The proposed study will test the candidate's hypothesis that VS hypofunction will be specifically related to low motivation and reduced expectations of pleasure. VS activity will be measured using fMRI while subjects perform simple social and nonsocial reward tasks. A detailed negative symptom profile will be obtained, together with measures of nicotine dependence and depression, as these common comorbidities also impact VS function. First-degree family members, who often exhibit negative symptomatology, will be studied alongside the patients themselves. This will allow findings to be explored independently of medication and chronic illness effects. The study is specifically designed to develop the candidate's scientific expertise and independent research trajectory in line with his career goals. In addition, the candidate will pursue specialized training through coursework and mentored learning in the following areas: fMRI techniques, affective neuroscience, pharmacology, statistics, and the design of effective, ethical clinical trials. The proposed work will prepare the candidate for an independent research career focused on improving the understanding and treatment of schizophrenia.
Schizophrenia is a common brain disorder that imposes enormous costs on patients, families, and society. Symptoms of low motivation and reduced pleasure contribute to chronic social and occupational impairment. This proposal aims to clarify the neurobiology of these deficits, and prepare the candidate for a career using powerful brain imaging technology to develop more effective treatments for patients with schizophrenia.
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