Kerry J. Ressler
The goal of our lab is to advance our understanding of the molecular, cellular, and systems neuroscience mechanisms which underlie neuropsychiatric disease. I have focused on the neurobiology of fear in mouse models and the pathophysiology of fear-related disorders in humans, such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
An important observation in recent years is that there are a number of different learning components involved in the fear response following trauma exposure and recovery. During the minutes to hours to days following trauma exposure, trauma memory remains in a labile state, called the consolidation period. There are a number of exciting areas of inquiry suggesting that new pharmacotherapeutic and psychotherapeutic approaches can be initiated that may inhibit the emotional component of fear memory consolidation, without affecting the explicit memory formation. Such an approach could prevent the severe emotional reactions that underlie later development of PTSD. There are several additional cognitive mechanisms that are associated with pathological reactions, such as generalization and sensitization of trauma memory reminders. In contrast, the mechanisms of discrimination and extinction of memory serve to counter these processes. In summary, by understanding multiple different components of fear memory formation and modulation in humans and mice, a number of novel, powerful, and targeted treatment and intervention approaches may become possible.
My research program is focused on understanding these processes in mice, at a molecular and cellular level, using inducible over-expression and knockout with targeted viruses in the brain, optogenetics, chemogenetics (DREADDS), cell-type specific transcriptome profiling, epigenetic, stereotaxic, and behavioral approaches. This is combined with data from humans, where we use genetic, physiological, and neuroimaging approaches, to provide a convergent understanding of fear and its dysregulation across species. Together, these experiences and our labs’ expertise provide for a powerful combination of sophisticated behavioral, physiological, molecular and genetic approaches to understand the effects of trauma on emotional memory.
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