Dr. Haghighi's research specialty is in medical epigenetics with applications to traumatic brain Injury (TBI), depression, and suicidal behavior. These epigenetic studies involve how genes are differentially transcribed and regulated, within human clinical and postmortem brain samples, providing a snapshot of potential transcriptional regulatory abnormalities associated with disease neuropathology. Dr. Haghighi's clinical studies show how environmental exposure affects the epigenome. Specifically, in her studies involving traumatic brain injury, she investigates how response to repeated blast-exposure induces long-term transcriptional regulatory changes resulting in symptoms of sleep disturbances, anxiety, cognitive deficits and depression and PTSD. Additionally, she investigates how the role of stress, specifically chronic stress, induces epigenetic changes associated with depression and suicide in the Veteran population.
Dr. Haghighi's genomics research focuses on how environmental signals or insults are interpreted by the genome through epigenetics. Epigenetics is the bridge connecting the environment and genetics, regulating gene expression and cellular response to environmental cues throughout our lifespan. Specifically, she is interested in how physical and/or psychosocial stress throughout the lifespan can induce epigenetic abnormalities leading to neuropathological and psychiatric symptoms. Traumatic brain injury represents a physical stress, and psychosocial stressors often precipitate depression and heightened suicide risk. Using both animal and human studies, she investigates the role of such stressors using genomics approaches to identify the underlying molecular mechanisms in such disorders. Her successes in building productive collaborations within the VA Health System and the Department of Defense to support our TBI and suicide genomics research programs demonstrates Dr. Haghighi's continued leadership capabilities in building a strong suicide clinical and research program at the VA.