We aim to understand clinically and therapeutically significant mechanisms underlying human cognitive and emotional dysfunction in schizophrenia and related brain disorders.

Multidimensional computational approach to modeling genetic and environmental influences on illness behavior and brain function

We approach human brain mechanisms associated with psychiatric illness with computational strategies at multiple levels of environmental, behavioral, neural circuit, and genetic modeling. We design cognitive and emotional paradigms to give us insights into live human brain functioning in the MRI scanner. We utilize state-of-the-art computational modeling of complex behavior, decision-making and brain network function in patients with schizophrenia, their unaffected siblings and healthy individuals, to define brain circuit functions associated with genetic risk for illness (Kaplan et al, Brain 2016).

A particular focus of investigation is the prefrontal cortex and associated brain networks. Genes linked to psychiatric illness influence these brain functions. The prenatal and postnatal environment through early adulthood and the onset of major psychiatric illness also influence prefrontal networks. We address how some childhood environmental factors may influence prefrontal network function through studying special populations with differing upbringing in rural or urban environments. This is enabled through partnerships we have developed between the Lieber Institute for Brain Development, Peking University, the National Institute for Mental Health and the Chinese National Science Foundation.