The applicant of this K08 Mentored Clinical Scientist Development Award (MCSDA) seeks to become an independent investigator specializing in the theory and practice of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) of mood and mood disorders, with a special focus on the relationship of sad emotion to attentional bias in bereavement. Mentors in fMRI study design, data-analysis, cognitive psychology, mood disorders, bereavement, statistics, and neuroanatomy, as well as coursework in statistics, neuroimaging, and research ethics, will assist in this effort. Research proposed will develop expertise in the design, administration, analysis, and interpretation of fMRI studies of emotion and attention. Long-term career goals are to identify people vulnerable to complicated bereavement, a disabling condition that affects roughly 15% of all bereaved persons, and to clarify the role that sad mood, yearning, and attentional bias towards reminders of the deceased play in development of the condition.
AIM 1 : Using fMRI, to determine whether cognitive control mechanisms dampen both attentional bias and amygdala activity on exposure to reminders of the deceased. Hypotheses: Using an event-related Emotional Stroop (ES) task, subjects with resolved grief will demonstrate reduced reaction times, decreased amygdala activity, and decreased DLPFC activity on exposure to deceased-related stimuli, relative to acutely bereaved and complicated grief subjects, who will demonstrate the inverse pattern of activity. Implications: Recovery from bereavement may be faciliatated by cognitive control mechanisms that dampen activity of the incentive salience system.
AIM 2 : To determine the differential effects of expression and suppression of sadness on behavioral and functional neuroanatomical markers of incentive salience in three bereaved populations. Hypothesis: Brief episodes of sadness will increase the incentive salience of deceased-related stimuli and decrease activity of control regions, resulting in longer RTs. Control of sadness will have the opposite effect. Subjects with complicated and acute grief will demonstrate relative deficits in bringing control processes online, in comparison to resolved grief subjects. Implications: Positive results would support the 'emotional control'hypothesis of bereavement, which implies that sadness and crying should not be encouraged in a bereaved population, as they increase rather than decrease symptoms that are predictive of complicated grief.

Public Health Relevance

Each year in the United States roughly 5.4 million people are bereaved of a first-degree relative, and roughly 15% (800,000) develop complicated bereavement, the persistence one year later of episodes of intense sadness, yearning, intrusive thoughts, and social dysfunction. Understanding the brain basis of changes in attention and mood in this condition may lead to improved treatments.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Clinical Investigator Award (CIA) (K08)
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Adult Psychopathology and Disorders of Aging Study Section (APDA)
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Chavez, Mark
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Columbia University (N.Y.)
Schools of Medicine
New York
United States
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Freed, Peter J; Yanagihara, Ted K; Hirsch, Joy et al. (2009) Neural mechanisms of grief regulation. Biol Psychiatry 66:33-40