Our research examines modulators of the medial temporal hippocampal and prefrontal systems across the adult human lifespan. Currently, we have projects ongoing that focus on the impact of psychosocial stress on neurocognitive function examined through the lens of racialized stress in African American/Black adults. For this research we use functional and structural MRI, structured interviews, surveys and questionnaires, neuropsychological assessments, and biomarker assays from blood and saliva.
Racial Stress and Neurocognitive Aging
Cognitive Study (Funded by the Alzheimer’s Association)
This pilot study examines whether chronic stress due to experiences of racism and social discrimination negatively affects brain function in two subgroups of African American/Black seniors. A larger percentage of Black/African Americans than Americans of European ancestry have Alzheimer’s disease. The reasons for this health disparity are unclear. Discrimination related to racial minority status is a known chronic stressor. The Alzheimer’s health disparity may, in part, be explained by differences in racialized chronic stress. Experiences of racism and social discrimination are common among Black/African Americans, the largest minority group in the United States. The hippocampus, a brain area critical for memory formation, among other brain systems, is negatively impacted by both Alzheimer’s disease and chronic stress. The goal of this research study is to examine whether racialized chronic stress in Black/African American seniors could lead to poorer performance on neuropsychological tests of cognitive function. As part of this research and in collaboration with the University of the Virgin Islands, St. Croix Campus, we are also comparing Black/African American seniors living in the Boston area where they are members of the racial minority with Black/African American/Afro-Carribean seniors living on St. Croix in the United States Virgin Islands where they are members of the racial majority on cognitive function.
MRI Studies (Funded by the National Institute on Aging, NIH)
Study 1: The hippocampus is a brain area critical for learning and memory that is negatively impacted by aging, Alzheimer’s disease, and chronic stress. The prefrontal cortex is a brain area critical for executive function that is also negatively impacted by aging, Alzheimer’s disease and chronic stress. Another well-established modulator of the hippocampal memory system is aerobic exercise. Aerobic exercise and chronic stress are both potent, but opposite modulators of the hippocampal memory system. The goal of this research is to examine how psychosocial chronic stress due to social discrimination and experiences of racism affects the hippocampal memory system, and to examine whether physical activity can buffer against the negative effects of social discrimination and racialized stress.
Study 2: Racial disparities in Alzheimer’s disease, neuropsychological test performance and cardiovascular disease risk are well-known, however, how these factors are related to each other and their neurobiological impact are not well understood. A recently NIA-funded study focuses on examining the impact of racialized stress on cardiovascular disease risk and neurocognitive aging in African American/Black older adults. We have currently several open positions to support this research program.
Racial Stress and Brain Health/Mental Health in Emerging Adults
MRI Studies (Funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, NIH)
The hippocampus is not only critical for learning and memory, but, along with the amygdala, supports emotion processing. Following the theme around positive and negative modulators of the medial temporal hippocampal system and racialized stress, this research program focuses on the impact of racialized stress on hippocampal function in African American/Black university students at Historically White Colleges and Universities, and resilience factors, such as cardiorespiratory fitness. This study uses high-resolution fMRI and biomarker assays to examine allostatic load, the physiological ‘wear and tear’ response of the body to chronic stress. We have currently several open positions to support this research program.
This page was last updated: 10/14/2022