Science Spotlights

This year we will be highlighting cutting edge, topical, research with our Science Spotlights. Science Spotlights feature invited speakers who are conducting paradigm shifting research that will help shape new directions in understanding and treating depression and anxiety disorders.

Saturday, March 21, 8:30 am to 9:30 am
Targeting Biological Mechanisms of Resilience to Identify New Therapeutics for Depression and PTSD

Stress related disorders such as depression and PTSD represent an enormous public health challenge and current treatments are not effective for many patients. While conventional treatments such as antidepressants were meant to reverse aspects of the disease process, new treatments targeting ‘pro-resilience’ mechanisms in the brain represent a different perspective. If we can understand how the healthy brain responds adaptively to stress, then we may be able to design treatments that promote those resilience mechanisms in individuals who suffer maladaptive consequences of stress. The hope is that this avenue of research will lead to new, more effective and urgently needed treatments for patients suffering for these conditions.

Learning Objectives:

  • To understand the basic mechanisms in the brain that are relevant for resilience to stress
  • To appreciate current efforts to translate basic findings in neuroscience related to resilience into new treatments for patients with depression and PTSD

James Murrough, MD is an Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Neuroscience and Director of the Depression and Anxiety Center for Discovery and Treatment at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. He is a faculty member of the Friedman Brain Institute and Center of Excellence in Neuropharmacology at Mount Sinai. Dr. Murrough conducts clinical and translational research aimed at understanding the biological basis of mood and anxiety disorders in order to point the way towards new, more effective treatments. He received his Bachelor of Science in Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology from Emory University in Atlanta and his Medical degree from Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston. He completed residency training in psychiatry, a research fellowship in experimental therapeutics and clinical neuroscience, and  a PhD in clinical research from Mount Sinai. Dr. Murrough has received research support from the National Institutes of Health, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the Dana Foundation and the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation. He is a Member of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology and an active member of the scientific community. In addition to his research and educational activities, Dr. Murrough oversees a clinical program at Mount Sinai focused on evidence-based treatments for treatment-resistant depression and other refractory forms of mood and anxiety disorders.

Saturday, March 21, 9:30 am to 10:30 am
A Walk Through the Lifecycle of the Memory Engram

Discoveries on the neurobiology memory in recent years demand a reconsideration of our standard understanding in favor of a new view of memory. For most of the 20th century, neuroscientists believed that memories are initially labile but stabilize into a permanent engram through a process called consolidation. New evidence suggests that consolidated memories can return to their unstable states and, once destabilized, can be diminished, enhanced, or modified. Memory reminders can return a memory into an unstable state but exposure to memory reminders does not always lead to destabilization. The 'trace dominance' principle, for example, posits that the extent of exposure to memory cues governs memory susceptibility to disruption. We will examine the neural, behavioral and computational factors promoting shifts between stable and unstable memory states, the paths available to memories occupying each state, and the therapeutic challenge of implementing methods for memory modification.

External cues imbued with significance can enhance the motivational state of an organism, trigger related memories and influence future planning and goal directed behavior. At the same time, internal thought and imaginings can moderate and counteract the impact of external motivational cues. The neural underpinnings of imagination has been largely opaque, due to the inherent inaccessibility of mental actions. The second part of the talk will describe studies utilizing imagination and tracking how its neural correlates bidirectionally interact with external motivational cues.

Finally, stimulus-response associative learning is only one form of memory organization. A more comprehensive and efficient organizational principal is the cognitive map. In the last part of the talk we will examine this concept in the case of abstract memories and social space. Social encounters provide opportunities to become intimate or estranged from others and to gain or lose power over them. The locations of others on the axes of power and affiliation can serve as reference points for our own position in the social space. Research is beginning to uncover the spatial-like neural representation of these social coordinates. We will discuss recent and growing evidence on utilizing the principals of the cognitive map across multiple domains, providing a systematic way of organizing memories to navigate life. 

Learning Objectives:

  • Learn about the neuroscience of memory modification
  • Learn about novel analytical methods to measure and utilize imagination in the context of emotional learning
  • Learn about new approaches to the neuroscience of social cognition

Daniela Schiller, PhD is an Associate Professor in the Departments of Psychiatry and Neuroscience and Friedman Brain Institute at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, where she directs the affective neuroscience laboratory. Her research is focused on the modulation of emotional memories and the neuroscience of social cognition. Dr. Schiller’s work has been published in numerous scholarly journals, including Nature, Neuron and Nature Neuroscience. Schiller has been the recipient of several awards, including the New York Academy of Sciences Blavatnik Award for Young Scientists, and the Klingenstein-Simons Fellowship Award in the Neurosciences.  


This program is sponsored by:
VistaGen Therapeutics