At the Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory, our goal is to gain a better understanding of human prefrontal cortex functioning and neuroplasticity development, in order to improve recovery of function in individuals with brain injury.
Areas of Research
Executive Function and Social Cognition
The prefrontal cortex plays a fundamental role in human executive function and social cognition. Our research in this area spans a wide array of topics, including decision making, reward processing, reasoning, action planning, response inhibition, metacognition, social judgment, and pro-social/empathic behavior. We aim to gather converging evidence from neuroimaging (fMRI) and lesion studies to further our understanding of the neural mechanisms underlying these functions. In our laboratory, we are able to study a unique set of patients with focal penetrating head injuries who have participated in the Vietnam Head Injury Study (VHIS; Raymont et al., 2011), another set of patients with a diagnosis of frontotemporal dementia or corticobasal degeneration, as well as patients with both focal and diffuse brain injuries who live or are currently being treated in the Chicago area.
Neural pathways and synapses can change by forming new connections or reorganizing previously existing networks. These changes can occur after learning new information, as neurons adjust their connectivity in response to new situations. Neuroplasticity can also occur in response to brain injury, as neural pathways reorganize to compensate for damaged brain regions. In our laboratory, we are interested in examining the changes in neuroplasticity that follow neurocognitive and neurostimulation-based interventions in both healthy individuals and those with brain injuries.
Neurostimulation (TMS, tDCS, HD-tDCS)
Our laboratory is currently pursuing multiple studies using various neurostimulation techniques, including transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) and high-definition tDCS (HD-tDCS). These methods of neurostimulation are burgeoning areas of neuroscience research that can each be used to target a specific area of the brain and increase regional neuronal activity. One line of neurostimulation research in our laboratory involves the use of tDCS and HD-tDCS to influence specific areas of cognitive functioning, in order to determine whether this approach can produce long-term changes in individuals with and without brain injury.
Genetic Contributions to Neural Function
Recovery of function after brain injury is often difficult to predict, as the recovery process can be influenced by comorbid and environmental factors, as well as individual differences in pre-existing (pre-injury) factors. One such factor that has garnered recent attention involves genetic variants that impact neurotransmitter, hormone, and remodeling functions. One of our laboratory’s ongoing research objectives involves examining the role of these genetic factors in the recovery of cognitive and social functions following brain injury.