Current Research

Risk Taking study

child smiling with hands in front of themself

Studies show that a youth's family history can impact adolescent brain structure and executive functioning.

Part of this project uses functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to explore the impact of this family history on reward-based decision making and working memory during adolescence. Furthermore, we are using diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) and resting state functional connectivity magnetic resonance imaging (rs-fcMRI) to understand white matter microstructure and resting brain activity differences between youth with and without a family history of alcoholism.

Additionally, the adolescent brain may be particularly vulnerable to alcohol's neurotoxic effects, and earlier use has been associated with greater subsequent risk of addictive behaviors. Despite this, alcohol use is very common among adolescents. Thus, it is important to understand the impact of family history on the developing adolescent brain and to compare brain development in youth who do and do not use alcohol using longitudinal analyses. We will investigate structural, functional, behavioral, and personality changes that accompany heavy alcohol use initiation during adolescence. This will help facilitate the creation of interventions aimed at reducing risky decision making and alcohol drinking behaviors that are targeted at specific age and risk groups.

Youth Ages: 12-16
Funded by NIH grants P60 AA010760 (pilot funds) and R01 AA017664

NCANDA study

NCANDA study logo
National Consortium on Alcohol and Neurodevelopment in Adolescence (NCANDA)

The National Consortium of Alcohol on NeuroDevelopment in Adolescence (N-CANDA) is a collaborative effort by several top researchers and research facilities across the country. This study aims to determine the effects of alcohol use on the developing adolescent brain, with the overlying purpose of understanding more about brain development more broadly.

At each consortium visit site, including OHSU, youth and young adults will complete a baseline assessment and undergo three annual follow-up assessments in a longitudinal design. Both those who have and have not used alcohol or drugs will be included in this study. The examination of alcohol consequences will focus on structural and functional maturation of brain areas that are actively developing during adolescence, involved in psychological regulation, response to rewards, and thought to be vulnerable to toxic alcohol effects. Studied in the context of risk and baseline brain characteristics, we will determine both the effects of alcohol exposure on the developmental trajectory of the adolescent human brain, and identify preexisting psychobiological vulnerabilities that may put an adolescent at elevated risk of an alcohol use disorder or other forms of psychopathology.

The main focus of this consortium site will be to use resting state functional connectivity to characterize the developmental trajectory of brain networks over time, as well as examine the impact of alcohol-induced neurotoxicity on the integrity of these networks in relation to behavior.

Youth/Young Adult Ages: 12-21
Funded by NIAAA grant 1U01AA021691-01 (Nagel)

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ABCD study

ABCD Study
Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD)

The Adolescent Brain and Cognitive Development Study (ABCD) is the largest study of its kind to date. This landmark study is a collaborative effort by top researchers across the United States and will follow 10,000+ healthy children from age 9-10 into early adulthood. The project will measure brain maturation in the context of social, emotional and cognitive development.

Families who enroll in this project will take part in a number of different activities every year. The study will involve 1-2 baseline visits and yearly follow-up. Participation will include: telephone interviews, mental and physical health assessments, behavioral testing, bio-sample collection, and brain imaging.

With study sites across the U.S. and Hawaii, the ABCD project will recruit participants from diverse racial, ethnic, educational, and environmental backgrounds. Findings from this project will help to distinguish environmental, sociocultural, and genetic factors relevant to brain and cognitive development. This study has enormous potential to inform prevention, treatment intervention, and public health strategies for mental health and substance use.

Recruitment for the ABCD study is closed.

Youth Ages: 9-10
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Sex Differences study

Adolescent brain development undergoes many progressive and regressive changes that can result in disequilibrium between motivational/emotional limbic systems and more late developing regulatory systems of the frontal lobes. This disequilibrium may, in part, account for heightened adolescent vulnerability to psychopathology. Indeed, rates of psychopathology increase markedly during adolescence, and they do so in a sex-specific manner. Moreover, there are notable sex differences in the development of prefrontal cognitive and limbic motivational and emotional brain systems, as well as hormonal associations, which may explain sex-specific adolescent vulnerability and resilience to psychopathology.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), resting state fMRI (rs-fMRI), diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), and an array of neuropsychological and hormonal measures, this longitudinal study explores the circuitry and mechanisms underlying sex differences in the emergence of psychopathology. Recent projects investigating these aims have examined the relationship between white matter microstructure and gonadal steroid hormones, sex differences in white matter microstructure, sex differences in reward processing, and sex differences in resting state functional connectivity of the amygdala, a core region of the limbic system.

Youth Ages: 12-16
Funded by NIH grants P60 AA010760 (pilot funds), R01 AA017664, R21 MH099618

21 Brain study

The purpose of this study is to learn more about changes in brain activity following exposure to specific substances.

Family history of substance use disorder (SUD) augments an individual's risk for excessive substance use during young adulthood, which in turn, is associated with an increased likelihood of developing an SUD. The mechanisms underlying this risk are unclear, but differences in how individuals respond after substance intake cannot be ignored. We aim to address this knowledge gap using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), resting state fMRI (rs-fMRI), diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), and an array of cognitive and behavioral measures.

This study explores the functional connectivity underlying response to substance intake in the brains of individuals at varying risk for substance use. This study may provide useful information about the neurobiology of substance actions and interactive factors associated with substance abuse liability, which may ultimately inform intervention efforts.

Young Adult Age: 21

Currently recruiting participants