Neurocognitive mechanisms involved in the processing of attentional biases for negative information in Latino adolescents and young adults (NIMHD U54)

This is a Translational Health Disparity Investigator Award, granted by the Puerto Rico Clinical and Translational Research Consortium.  The project studies in a non-clinical sample of Latinos, and from a developmental perspective, attentional biases to negative information and the neurocognitive mechanisms related to their expression, maintenance, and management.  Attentional biases to negative information are persistent and difficult to control cognitive processes that maintain symptoms in both anxiety and depression. We are studying these biases at several levels of analysis: self-reports, psychophysiology, functional neuroimaging, and computerized cognitive experiments.  We aim to recruit 25 adolescents (13-17 years old) and 25 young adults (21-29 years old).  All participants attend two sessions.  On the first, they fill out self-report instruments that measure (a) anxiety symptoms; (b) depressive symptoms; (c) emotion regulation; and (d) attention.  Immediately after this they perform two cognitive experiments that measure reactivity to negative information.  Electrophysiological responses are measured using electroencephalograms and event related potentials, which are techniques suitable to measure fast responses and changes in brain activity.  During a second session, participants undergo brain imaging sessions at the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) facility at the Imaging Center of the University of Puerto Rico Medical Sciences Campus to assess: a) brain activity associated to tasks involving cognitive inhibition related to emotional content as measured by Blood Oxygen Level Dependent (BOLD) contrast (fMRI), b) BOLD-based resting-state functional connectivity among pre-selected brain regions of interest (fcMRI), and c) anatomical volume of selected brain regions (MRI).  While EEG/ERP allows for a high temporal resolution of fast responses to emotional stimuli, fMRI/fcMRI permits to study with a fine spatial resolution hemodynamic activity in brain regions and circuits necessary for cognitive control and inhibition.  This type of research allows to relate several units of analysis (as stated in NIMH RDoC criteria), which may be useful for the development of integrative strategies to understand and treat affective disorders on which attentional biases and deficits in cognitive inhibition are common.  Finally, since these disorders arise from the interplay between organic and sociocultural factors, the focus on Latino youth and young adults may allow us to bridge a large gap in the knowledge on the neurocognitive mechanisms involved in affective processing in this population.


Nelson D. Cruz-Bermúdez, Ph.D. - nelson.cruz6@upr.edu

Giovanni Tirado-Santiago, Ph.D. - gtirado@ipsi.uprrp.edu

Neural mechanisms of cognitive control, impulsivity and sensorimotor integration in adolescents and adults.

Cognitive neuroscience pursues the characterization of biological substrates underlying mental processes across the lifespan. We need to uncover how the brain changes over time and how it interacts with the environment to identify biomarkers for mental disorders and develop evidence based clinical diagnoses and interventions. This proposal seeks to (1) measure and examine cognitive control mechanisms and psychological processes in healthy adolescents, young adults and adults using psychophysiological and behavioral approaches, and (2) measure and examine visual-motor control and psychological processes in healthy subjects, former poly-drug users and individuals with chronic poly-drug problems. I propose to use EEG, computerized cognitive paradigms and self-report techniques combined with statistical analyses to better understand the interactions of these neurocognitive variables in individuals from different backgrounds. Both objectives are aligned with NIMH’s Research Domain Criteria project which pursuits to systematically transform how research on mental disorders is done by integrating genetics, physiology, neuroimaging and different levels of analysis into a new trans-diagnostic neurocognitive dimension system. The proposed research plan will yield knowledge about the development of cognitive control neural circuits and the drug-brain interaction, and how these parameters contribute to emotional information processing and motor execution with the final goal of understanding how cognitive functioning is impaired in different psychopathologies. This proposal is innovative because it encompasses various units of analysis to study cognitive control mechanisms from a developmental perspective.


Nelson D. Cruz-Bermúdez, Ph.D. - nelson.cruz6@upr.edu

Relationship between cognitive and affective processes and circadian rhythms

Human behavior is set at rates that last for about a day (circadian rhythms).  Sleep and temperature are two of the most studied rhythms.  Animal research has demonstrated that these rates are related to specific brain regions (such as the suprachiasmatic nucleus), neurohormonal metabolism (such as melatonin concentrations), and gene regulation.  Functional neuroimaging studies (fMRI) have shown that these rhythms can also be identified in brain regions associated with emotional regulation, and cognitive processes such as response inhibition, cognitive inhibition and reappraisal.  Electrophysiological and behavioral studies that also use self-report measures show that although the existence of 24 hour rates is a constant, the synchronicity of these rates with the time at which the sun sets and rises varies between humans.  Thus, they found typologies were some humans are “morning people”, while others are more nocturnal, even when operating at 24 hour rates.

One question that remains unanswered is whether these typologies are associated with cognitive and affective styles.  For example, it has been found that more nocturnal people show more depression symptoms even though they are not clinically depressed.  It has also been observed that cognitive functioning varies during the day, with cognitive learning and attention efficiency varying according to the time of day and where in the spectrum of circadian typologies the person is situated.  Despite the close relationship between cognition and affectivity, there are few studies that relate cognitive and emotional styles with circadian rhythms.  Nor is it common to study these styles in humans with relation to genetic variables, even though the literature on animals has found extensive evidence of the genetic regulation of the rhythms in relation to behavioral variables. The purpose of this project is to study the relationship between these genetic and behavioral variables (affective and cognitive) with circadian rhythms.  We aim to recruit 128 young adults between the ages of 18 and 39.  Interventions with participants will last about an hour, in which we will collect data through three techniques: self-report instruments, performance in computerized cognitive tasks, and DNA extraction from a hair sample for the identification of gene polymorphisms associated with circadian rhythms.


Giovanni Tirado-Santiago, Ph.D.

José L. Agosto-Rivera, Ph.D.

Nelson D. Cruz-Bermúdez, Ph.D.

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