Lecture – The Alfred Pope Award for Early Career Investigators 2021

Available with English captions.

Honoring Nathaniel G. Harnett, PhD, and Lauren A.M. Lebois, PhD, McLean Hospital

Each year, McLean Hospital recognizes young researchers with the Alfred Pope Award for Early Career Investigators. The honor is named for one of the hospital’s most distinguished and respected researchers, the late Alfred Pope, MD. The award recognizes the publication of an exceptional peer-reviewed, first-authored article on basic or clinical research performed at McLean. Honorees discuss their work during the awards ceremony.

This year’s honorees were recognized for their work in PTSD and trauma-related dissociation. Both researchers offered presentations that explored current research and findings and pointed toward future work that could increase of our understanding of these conditions.

Multimodal MRI Signatures of PTSD in the Early Aftermath of Trauma – Nathaniel G. Harnett, PhD

In this talk, Harnett explains his investigations into the neurological mechanisms underlying risk for PTSD. He states that trauma exposure occurs for many individuals and is the main precursor for the development of PTSD. But individuals differ in their susceptibility to PTSD following trauma.

Lecture highlights include:

  • A description of the threat neurocircuitry model of PTSD
  • A comparison of unimodal and multimodal neuroimaging approaches in the study of psychiatric disorders
  • A discussion of the potential brain-based markers for trauma and stress-related disorders

Harnett states that multimodal human neuroimaging in the immediate aftermath of trauma holds significant promise for identifying signs of susceptibility to PTSD. He describes his ongoing efforts to leverage magnetic resonance imaging in recent trauma victims. The research has led to the identification of markers in brain circuitry. This work, he says, could lead to new approaches to determining who is most at risk for PTSD.

Toward a Neurobiological Fingerprint of Trauma-Related Dissociation – Lauren A.M. Lebois, PhD

Lebois followed Harnett’s presentation with a discussion of her work into finding the neurobiological “fingerprint” of trauma-related dissociation. She explains that dissociative experiences commonly occur in response to trauma. Yet, the neurobiology behind trauma-related dissociation is not well understood.

Lecture highlights include

  • A look at how brain-based measures can augment psychiatric symptom self-report measures
  • A description of the neurobiological correlates that predict dissociative symptoms
  • An explanation of what phenomena are encompassed by trauma-related dissociation

Lebois says that clinicians assess the severity of dissociation through self-reports made by patients. While these reports are helpful, better assessment methods are needed.

In this talk, Lebois shares that her team has estimated dissociation severity using brain network connectivity in a group of women with childhood trauma, PTSD, and various levels of dissociation. This work, she asserts, paves the way for more objective, clinically useful biomarkers of dissociation.