The past 15-20 years has witnessed an impressive convergence of animal and human subject studies concerning brain mechanisms storing """"""""emotional memory,"""""""" defined here as explicit memory for emotionally arousing events. Extensive evidence implicates stress hormones and the amygdala as key, interacting components of an endogenous 'memory modulating'mechanism. Our recent research also uncovered significant sex and sex hormone influences on these mechanisms. Here we propose to further investigate the neural underpinnings of emotional memory with a combination of basic and applied studies, broadly divided into 3 parts. The first will investigate sex/stress hormone influences on emotional memory, including in patients deprived of sex hormones for cancer treatment. The second will examine neurohormonal underpinnings of intrusive recollections that occur after emotional events, and examine whether sex hormones influence the development of intrusive recollections in recently traumatized women. The third will utilize a method we have recently developed for selectively disrupting both emotional memory and amygdala effective connectivity (namely, a targeted dose of the anesthetic sevoflurane) to further dissect amygdala contributions to emotional memory in healthy humans. Collectively, these studies should provide broad new insight into neural mechanisms of emotional memory storage, and into sex influences thereto. They should also help minimize the gap that still exists between basic and applied studies of emotional memory.

Public Health Relevance

Research like ours into brain mechanisms of emotional memory, and sex influences on those mechanisms, has immediate, strong relevance for understanding and treating many disorders of emotional memory, most notably Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and clinical depression. Our research involving sex/stress hormone interactions in memory will also help us understand, and treat, the severe memory deficits commonly experienced in cancer patients who are deprived of sex hormones as part of their therapy.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Research Project (R01)
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Biobehavioral Mechanisms of Emotion, Stress and Health Study Section (MESH)
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Simmons, Janine M
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University of California Irvine
Other Basic Sciences
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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Petersen, Nicole; Cahill, Larry (2015) Amygdala reactivity to negative stimuli is influenced by oral contraceptive use. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci 10:1266-72
Petersen, Nicole; Touroutoglou, Alexandra; Andreano, Joseph M et al. (2015) Oral contraceptive pill use is associated with localized decreases in cortical thickness. Hum Brain Mapp 36:2644-54
Nielsen, Shawn E; Ahmed, Imran; Cahill, Larry (2014) Postlearning stress differentially affects memory for emotional gist and detail in naturally cycling women and women on hormonal contraceptives. Behav Neurosci 128:482-93
Petersen, Nicole; Kilpatrick, Lisa A; Goharzad, Azaadeh et al. (2014) Oral contraceptive pill use and menstrual cycle phase are associated with altered resting state functional connectivity. Neuroimage 90:24-32
Nielsen, Shawn E; Segal, Sabrina K; Worden, Ian V et al. (2013) Hormonal contraception use alters stress responses and emotional memory. Biol Psychol 92:257-66
Nielsen, Shawn E; Ahmed, Imran; Cahill, Larry (2013) Sex and menstrual cycle phase at encoding influence emotional memory for gist and detail. Neurobiol Learn Mem 106:56-65
Andreano, Joseph M; Waisman, James; Donley, Lisa et al. (2012) Effects of breast cancer treatment on the hormonal and cognitive consequences of acute stress. Psychooncology 21:1091-8
Ferree, Nikole K; Wheeler, Malinda; Cahill, Larry (2012) The influence of emergency contraception on post-traumatic stress symptoms following sexual assault. J Forensic Nurs 8:122-30
Ertman, Nicole; Andreano, Joseph M; Cahill, Larry (2011) Progesterone at encoding predicts subsequent emotional memory. Learn Mem 18:759-63
Nielsen, Shawn E; Ertman, Nicole; Lakhani, Yasmeen S et al. (2011) Hormonal contraception usage is associated with altered memory for an emotional story. Neurobiol Learn Mem 96:378-84

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