Diego A. Pizzagalli, PhD
- Professor of Psychiatry
Diego A. Pizzagalli, PhD, is founding director of the Center for Depression, Anxiety and Stress Research, director of the McLean Imaging Center, director of the Laboratory for Translational and Affective Neuroscience, and director of research for the Division of Depression and Anxiety Disorders at McLean Hospital, and is a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. He is an internationally known expert on the neurobiology of depression, and has made major contributions toward the identification of biomarkers of depression and treatment response.
The main goals of Dr. Pizzagalli’s research are to improve our understanding of the psychological, environmental, and neurobiological factors associated with mood disorders, in particular major depression. To this end, he integrates behavioral, electrophysiological, neuroimaging, and, more recently, molecular imaging approaches to investigate three important (endo)phenotypes of depression: anhedonia (loss of pleasure), increased stress sensitivity, and executive function deficits.
Depression, anxiety, and related disorders affect one in five Americans over their lifetimes. Recent breakthroughs in genetics, neuroscience, and cognitive science are revolutionizing the understanding of these conditions. The ultimate goal of Dr. Pizzagalli’s research is to identify the biological, environmental, and psychological factors that contribute to depression and anxiety and translate those findings into new treatments.
The scientists in Dr. Pizzagalli’s Laboratory for Translational and Affective Neuroscience focus on the brain mechanisms involved in anhedonia (a core symptom of depression); functional, structural, and neurochemical brain abnormalities in depression; neurobiological predictors of treatment response in depression; and neurobiological predictors of depression onset and relapse.
Anhedonia—the loss of pleasure or lack of reactivity to reward—is one of the core symptoms of and a potential vulnerability marker for depression. Surprisingly, few studies have utilized laboratory-based measures to objectively characterize anhedonia. The goal of this research is to employ a variety of techniques, including electroencephalography (EEG), event-related potentials, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), positron emission tomography (PET), molecular genetics, as well as stress and pharmacological manipulations, to advance the understanding of anhedonia.
One of the lab’s goals is to improve the understanding of functional, structural, and neurochemical brain abnormalities in depression. This information will be critical for developing better treatments and for identifying individuals at increased risk for depression. Dr. Pizzagalli’s research has shown that specific patterns of brain activation correspond to individual differences in treatment response and particular phenotypes of depression.
Dr. Pizzagalli and his staff are interested in investigating executive dysfunction in depression, especially abnormal reactions to errors and negative feedback. Depressed individuals show a catastrophic response to errors, evident in a rapid downward spiral in performance. Studies from Dr. Pizzagalli’s laboratory were among the first to show that these impairments are linked to an exaggerated, automatic neural response to errors, along with weak recruitment of brain regions that implement cognitive control. These dysfunctions might raise vulnerability to subsequent episodes of depression.
In an investigation of predictors of treatment response in depression, Dr. Pizzagalli’s laboratory was the first to show that pretreatment resting EEG activity in the rostral anterior cingulate cortex predicted therapeutic improvement 4-6 months later in depressed individuals. The group is currently exploring novel behavioral and EEG markers that could be used to examine treatment response prospectively, ultimately leading to improvements in treatment selection and reducing the personal and socioeconomic burden associated with the current trial and error approach.
Among several awards, Dr. Pizzagalli received the Distinguished Scientific Award for an Early Career Contribution to Psychophysiology from the Society for Psychophysiological Research (2006), the Early Career Award from the EEG and Clinical Neuroscience Society (2007), the Anne M. Cataldo Excellence in Mentoring Award from McLean Hospital (2015), a MERIT award from the National Institute of Mental Health (2016), the Stuart T. Hauser, MD, PhD, Mentorship Award in Psychiatry from Harvard Medical School (2017), the Joel Elkes Research Award from the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology (2017), and a NARSAD Distinguished Investigator Award (2018).
Dr. Pizzagalli has published over 280 papers and chapters, serves on the editorial board of 13 journals, and is a highly cited researcher (Web of Science). As of January 2021, he is editor-in-chief of the journal Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience. He is currently the director of a NIMH Silvio O. Conte Center for Translational Mental Health Research entitled “Novel Treatment Targets For Affective Disorders Through Cross-Species Investigation of Approach/Avoidance Decision Making.”
- Madeline (Lynn) Alexander, PhD, Clinical Interviewer
- Emily L. Belleau, PhD, Assistant Neuroscientist
- David Crowley, Senior Program Manager
- Janice Kiley, Senior Grant Manager
- Manuel Kuhn, PhD, Research Fellow
- Poornima Kumar, PhD, Assistant Neuroscientist
- Steven Lamontagne, MSc, Visiting Doctoral Researcher
- Monica Landi, MSW, Clinical Interviewer
- Kaylee Null, Clinical Research Assistant
- Adrienne L. Romer, PhD, Clinical and Research Fellow
- Nathaniel Alpert, PhD, Georges El-Fakhri, PhD, Marc Normandin, PhD, MGH Division of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging
- Yuen Siang Ang, DPhil, Agency for Science, Technology and Research
- Randy P. Auerbach, PhD, ABPP, Columbia University
- Jack Bergman, PhD, McLean Hospital
- Sabina Berretta, MD, McLean Hospital
- Bill Carlezon, PhD, McLean Hospital
- Andre Der-Avakian, PhD, University of California San Diego
- Darin D. Dougherty, MD, MMSc, Massachusetts General Hospital
- Fei Du, PhD, McLean Hospital
- Eden Evins, MD, MGH Center for Addiction Medicine
- Maurizio Fava, MD, MGH Depression Clinical and Research Program
- Patrick Finan, PhD, Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center
- Brent P. Forester, MD, MSc, McLean Hospital
- Michael Frank, PhD, Cognitive, Linguistic and Psychological Sciences, Brown University
- Blaise Frederick, PhD, McLean Hospital
- John Gabrieli, PhD, The MIT Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Lab
- David Gilbert, PhD, Southern Illinois University
- Jill Goldstein, PhD, Brigham and Women’s Hospital
- Mei-Hua Hall, PhD, McLean Hospital
- Maria Ironside, DPhil, Laureate Institute for Brain Research
- Amy C. Janes, PhD, National Institute on Drug Abuse
- Brian Kangas, PhD, McLean Hospital
- Kwang-Soo Kim, PhD, McLean Hospital
- Dost Öngür, MD, PhD, McLean Hospital
- Scott L. Rauch, MD, McLean Hospital
- D. Bradford Reich, MD, McLean Hospital
- Isabelle M. Rosso, PhD, McLean Hospital
- Franklin Schneier, MD, Columbia University
- Hans S. Schroder, PhD, University of Michigan
- Martin Teicher, MD, PhD, McLean Hospital
- Gordana Vitaliano, MD, McLean Hospital
- Christian A. Webb, PhD, McLean Hospital
- Mary C. Zanarini, EdD, McLean Hospital
- Chun Zuo, MD, PhD, McLean Hospital
Treadway MT, Waskom ML, Dillon DG, Holmes AJ, Park MTM, Chakravarty MM, Dutra SJ, Polli FE, Iosifescu DV, Fava M, Gabrieli JDE, Pizzagalli DA. Illness progression, recent stress and morphometry of hippocampal subfields and medial prefrontal cortex in major depression. Biological Psychiatry. 2015;77(3):285-94.
Pizzagalli DA, Webb CA, Dillon DG, Tenke CE, Kayser J, Goer F, Fava M, McGrath P, Weissman M, Parsey R, Adams P, Trombello J, Cooper C, Deldin P, Oquendo MA, McInnis MG, Carmody T, Bruder G, Trivedi MH. Pretreatment rostral anterior cingulate cortex theta activity in relation to symptom improvement in depression: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA Psychiatry. 2018;75(6):547-554.
Pizzagalli DA, Smoski M, Ang Y-S, Whitton AE, Sanacora G, Mathew SJ, et al. Selective kappa opioid antagonism ameliorates anhedonic behavior: Evidence from the Fast-Fail Trial in mood and anxiety spectrum disorders (FAST-MAS). Neuropsychopharmacology. 2020;45(10):1656-1663.
Education & Training
- 1995 MS in Psychology, University of Zurich, Switzerland
- 1998 PhD in Psychology, University of Zurich, Switzerland
- 1998-1999 Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, KEY Institute for Brain-Mind Research, University Hospital of Psychiatry, Zurich, Switzerland
- 1999-2000 Post-Doctoral Research Fellowship, Laboratory of Affective Neuroscience, Psychology Department, University of Wisconsin-Madison