Psychology researchers awarded CIHR Project Grants

Dr. Stan Floresco, a professor in UBC’s department of psychology, received a Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Fall 2022 Project Grant for his research on CRF modulation of motivation, decision making and dopamine transmission.

Dr. Liisa Galea, a research scientist in U of T’s department of psychiatry and former psychology professor at UBC, received a CIHR Fall 2022 Project Grant for her research on Sex differences in Neural and Molecular Mechanisms Underlying Negative Cognitive Bias. Her co-investigators are Dr. Stan Floresco and Dr. Catharine Winstanley, professors in UBC’s department of psychology.

The Project Grant competition, one of CIHR’s flagship funding programs, supports multi-year grants for researchers at various stages in their careers as they conduct research projects that cover the full range of health research topics. The CIHR Fall 2022 Project Grant Fall 2022 competition approved 382 research grants and 93 bridge grants, for a total investment of approximately $325M.

Project grant recipients are leaders in their fields and their projects tackle pressing health issues, such as healthy aging, sex differences in the brain, mind wandering and brain connectivity, and hormones and brain health.

CRF modulation of motivation, decision making and dopamine transmission: Depression is associated with numerous symptoms. Among these are deficits in motivation, that can make an individual feel unable to engage in pursuits that may lead to things they find rewarding. Multiple abnormalities in brain chemistry have been implicated in driving certain symptoms of depression, one of which is abnormal increases in a stress-related neurotransmitter, corticotropin releasing factor (CRF). Work in our laboratory suggests that excessive CRF may play a key role in driving motivational deficits similar to what is seen in individuals suffering from depression. This research program will systematically investigate where in the brain CRF may act to cause these deficits, the brain circuits it acts upon and some of the neurochemical mechanisms that drives this dysfunction.

Sex differences in Neural and Molecular Mechanisms Underlying Negative Cognitive Bias: Major depressive disorder (MDD) affects 20% of the population and females are twice more likely to develop MDD compared with males. Furthermore, cognitive symptoms of depression, including negative cognitive bias, are more severe in females than in males. Negative cognitive bias is the increased perception of ambiguous situations as negative and predicts the onset of future depressive episodes. Current treatments to reduce MDD symptoms are only effective for a subset of the population and are not effective for reducing negative cognitive bias. The discovery of underlying mechanisms of negative cognitive bias would facilitate the development of new effective treatments for MDD and a focus on sex differences would allow for improved precision treatments for MDD. Our work to date suggests that negative cognitive bias might be influenced by activity in the hippocampus, a region that is known to be important for memory and is comprised with MDD. In these experiments we will begin to understand the brain representation of negative cognitive bias and how it might change with sex and exposure to chronic unpredictable stress (CUS) which is a reliable model of stimulating depressive-like symptoms. We expect that males and females will differ in not only where in the brain that negative cognitive bias is expressed but in the different cells that express this symptom of depression. In addition, we will examine the role of neurogenesis and inflammation in negative cognitive bias and how it may be different between the sexes. Ultimately, we understand that determining the association among the activation of different brain regions and cell types, neuroinflammation, neuroplasticity and negative cognitive bias will result in tailored precision treatments for cognitive dysfunction in females and males with MDD.