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Research Studies

You may be eligible for one or more of the studies listed below. 

To hear more about our studies or to pparticipate in research, please call: 
Danielle D. (858) 552- 8585 x2509

Current Studies

Application of a Mobile Health Platform for Assessing Cognition and Psychiatric Symptoms in Veterans

The proposed study will use Ecological Momentary Cognitive Testing to measure cognitive dysfunction and social cognitive biases alongside affective and interpersonal context indictors to test relationships between these variables. Psychiatric symptoms and cognitive function of Veterans will be measured in-lab. Veterans will then be followed for a 14-day burst interval using the EMCT platform. Finally, 6 and 12 month follow up visits will occur in-lab and via medical record review. The goals of the project are to gain a broader understanding of time-varying, proximal factors that are associated with suicide risk in order to better identify the optimal timing and type of interventions. 

Enhancing Treatment Outcomes Among Veterans With Alcohol Use Disorder: Clinical and Neural Markers of Adjunctive Approach-Avoidance Training

The proposed study will test a novel treatment for alcohol use disorders (AUD) to determine if it helps Veterans reduce their hazardous drinking and recover from alcohol-related functional impairments across social, occupational, and domestic domains. To do so, we will evaluate clinical, cognitive, and neural effects of a computer-delivered Approach Avoidance Training (AAT) treatment - which changes implicit tendencies to approach alcohol-related cues - in conjunction with standard VA care. The project will support RR&D’s mission to improve Veterans’ participation in their lives and community by determining if this innovative alternative technique can improve recovery outcomes for Veterans with AUD and exploring how the intervention works. 

Neurovascular Mechanisms Underlying the Negative Effects of Stress in Cognitive Aging

This study will utilize a multimodal approach to examine relationships among subjective lifetime stress, arterial spin labeling MRI cerebral blood flow (CBF), blood-based biomarkers of endothelial dysfunction (sVCAM-1), and cognitive performance among a sample of older adult Veterans. The study will include 100 older adult Veterans who will undergo a comprehensive assessment over one day which will include: a blood draw, an MRI scan of the brain, a clinical assessment of lifetime stress exposure, psychiatric symptoms and background, and neuropsychological testing to assess cognition. Findings would improve understanding of the role of neurovascular function in stress-related cognitive aging and inform interventions aimed at preventing or slowing cognitive decline and improving quality of life in older Veterans.

Non-Invasive Vagal Nerve Stimulation to Improve Functional Outcomes in Veterans With Alcohol Use Disorder

The aim of this study is to establish feasibility and acceptability of using noninvasive vagal nerve stimulation (nVNS), which is a low-risk form of neuromodulation, as a treatment option for alcohol use disorder. The study will include 16 participants, who will be randomly assigned to receive either nVNS or placebo stimulation prior to performing a well-validated functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) task. Subjects will then self-administer nVNS/sham at home twice a day for 7 days and return for a follow-up visit, during which all study components will be repeated.

Neural Correlates of Fear Conditioning and Extinction in Veterans With PTSD and Alcohol Use Disorder

This study examines the impact of recent heavy alcohol use on cognitive processes underlying posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) maintenance and recovery. Veterans with current symptoms related to posttraumatic stress who drink alcohol daily/nearly daily, or have a history of regular, heavy alcohol use (less than 90 days sober), will be asked to complete computerized tasks of cognition and emotion while undergoing functional MRI scans, as well as complete questionnaires and clinical interviews. Overall, the study consists of one clinical assessment appointment (remote or in-person) and two MRI scan sessions which are 24-hours apart. A great deal of evidence suggests that Veterans with PTSD and alcohol use disorders have more severe symptoms and benefit less from treatment than Veterans with PTSD alone. We hope that this work will translate into mechanism-informed interventions to optimize clinical tools to help individuals with a history of trauma.

Neuro-Computational Predictors of Treatment Responsiveness in Trauma-Exposed Veterans

This study aims to identify individual markers of reward function and test the usefulness of such markers in predicting successful reduction of PTSD symptoms following Evidence Based Treatment (EBT). Participants will complete visits immediately prior to start treatment, immediately after ending treatment, and 3 moths post treatment. Visits will consist of a clinical interview, questionniares, and neurocognitive assessments.

Studies No Longer Open to Recruitment

Neural Modeling of Decision-Making for Predicting Clinical Outcomes

This research aims to provide a precise mechanistic framework for understanding and objectively identifying clinical risk profiles in trauma-exposed Veterans, and for developing more targeted treatments aimed at preventing the development of depression and co-occurring substance abuse in this population. Participants will complete a full clinical assessment and fMRI scan while performing cognitive tasks. Functional neuroimaging will be used to identify neurocognitive processes that are affected by post-traumatic depressive symptoms and to test the usefulness of such neural markers in predicting response to a cognitive behavioral treatment. We will use computational modeling applied to functional neuroimaging data to quantify the neural correlates of reward processing and associated decision-making and to assess how these relate to psychopathology and clinical outcomes.

Neurocognitive Training to Boost Clinical Outcomes in Anhedonic Patients

This study aims to learn about the effects of a computer-based protocol designed to improve positive emotions, behaviors, and associated brain systems in individuals with depression and anxiety. The results of this study may help develop procedures to reduce symptoms of depression and improve positive emotions and well-being. We are seeking volunteers who experience low mood and feelings of depression or anxiety. This is a one-time visit study during which participants will complete a brain scan, questionnaires, and computer tasks.

To participate in this study please contact Danielle at the number listed above or

Neuromarkers of Treatment for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)

This study partners with a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial by Dr. Sonya Norman examining Prolonged Exposure therapy and the medication topiramate for the treatment of Veterans with comorbid PTSD and AUD. Subjects will complete one of two treatment conditions: 1) Prolonged Exposure therapy with topiramate and 2) Prolonged Exposure therapy with a placebo. Subjects will undergo fMRI scans pre- and post-treatment in order to inspect the dynamic model of fear processing and alcohol cue-reactivity as well as the effects of treatment allocation on the neural networks involved.

Cognitive training to reduce negative thinking in depression, anxiety, and PTSD

This study aims to evaluate whether a cognitive training treatment program can improve thinking skills and reduce negative thoughts like worry and rumination. The treatment occurs twice weekly using a computer-administered program. Before and after treatment, participants will complete a brain scan and tasks that assess skills like memory and attention.

To participate in this study please call Nathalie at (858)534-2148 or email

Cognitive Training as a Novel Neuroscience-Based Treatment for PTSD

This study aims to evaluate the effect of a computer-based, cognitive training intervention program in veterans with a history of interpersonal trauma. The treatment consists of 16 treatment sessions that aim to affect the emotional and cognitive symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder. Through fMRI, the neural regions involved in neutral and affective cognitive control functioning will be examined before and after the administration of a full cognitive training intervention program. Associations between activation in neural regions and symptom reduction will be examined. This study hopes to provide critical information about the efficacy of cognitive training program for Veterans with PTSD, while simultaneously informing neurobiological and cognitive models of the disorder that will allow for more precise treatment development and personalization.

Neural Correlates of Trauma Informed Guilt Reduction (TrIGR) Therapy in Veterans

The long-term goal of this research is to use neuroimaging tools to advance our ability to provide optimized, targeted interventions that support improved outcomes for veterans with trauma-related guilt. In this study, we aim to measure brain response to cognitive and affective tasks before and after active treatment for posttraumatic guilt. The treatment condition will receive Trauma Related Guilt Reduction therapy (TrIGR) through a clinical trial by Dr. Sonya Norman. Our goal is to delineate a neural profile of treatment responsiveness to TrIGR relative to supportive care and to determine which symptom clusters relate best to these changes.

Anti-Depressant Response in Neurobiologically Defined Psychiatric Veteran Group

The aim of this study is to identify neurobiological markers that can predict the success of pharmacological treatment outcomes in individuals with PTSD and co-morbid depression and anxiety disorders. In particular, subjects will be clustered into groups based on brain imaging, neurobiology, physiology, genetic markers, and demographics rather than symptoms. These clusters will serve as predictors for SSRI treatment outcome. Participants will be taking the medication Sertraline (Zoloft) as part of their standard course of care for depression, anxiety, or PTSD symptoms.

The Effect of Transcutaneous Nerve Stimulation in Healthy and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Subjects on Brain Function as Measured by fMRI

The purpose of this study is to examine the effects of placebo versus vagus nerve stimulation on brain activity and symptomology in Veterans with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.

Neuroimaging Study in OIF/OEF Veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, mild Traumatic Brain Injury (mTBI), and Depression

The aim of this study is to collect longitudinal brain imaging data on those who acquired PTSD following combat exposure and contrast it to that of subjects who did not acquire PTSD after similar combat events. Specifically, this study is focused on separating those neural substrates that are pertinent to PTSD from those better characterized by common comorbidities, such as depression and mild traumatic brain injury. In addition, we aim to understand the predictors of dynamic change in PTSD in the context of combat stress and examine the validity of cross-sectional neural biomarkers.

Integrated Alcohol Use and PTSD Treatment Study with fMRI for OIF/OEF Veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Alcoholism

This study uses fMRI to measure brain response to exposure-based or skills-based therapy in veterans with combat-related PTSD and alcoholism. Participants are randomly assigned to a treatment group and will receive an fMRI scan before and after treatment.

Mantram Repetition & Present-Centered Therapy with fMRI for Veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brian Injury

This study is examining the efficacy of Mantram Repetition and Present-Centered Therapy in reducing PTSD symptoms among military veterans. Participants are randomly assigned to a treatment group and will receive an fMRI scan before and after treatment.

CogSmart Treatment Study with fMRI

This study uses fMRI to measure brain response to cognitive rehabilitation treatment in OIF/OEF veterans with cognitive disorder. Participants will undergo treatment for cognitive disorder and receive a brain scan both before and after treatment.