Institute of Mental Research
Institute of Mental Research

Projects Overview

Projects conducted by faculty affiliated with the IMHR range from behavioral studies of hormones and genes to clinical trials involving newly developed and innovative treatments. Below we describe several ongoing studies. These represent a cross-section of work that occurs at the IMHR. In each instance, faculty are engaged in research that either directly or indirectly furthers understanding of the causes or treatment of mental health issues.

Selected Projects

  • Contribution of Genome-Wide Variation to Cognitive Vulnerability to Negative Valence System: In this study, we aim to comprehensively measure intermediate phenotypes related to cognitive vulnerability to depression, and to use genome-wide complex trait analysis (GCTA) to determine how much variance in these key phenotypes is due to variation in measured polymorphisms. Phenotypes measured include negative attention bias, pupil dilation during exposure to emotional stimuli, working memory, resting frontal asymmetry in EEG, as well as clinically determined and self-reported symptoms of negative valence. PIs: Dr. Beevers & Dr. Schnyer
  • Dose Timing of D-Cycloserine to Augment CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder: This study aims to evaluate whether d-cycloserine (DCS) can enhance the effectiveness of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) in improving treatment outcomes for social anxiety disorder. In addition, the current study seeks to determine whether the timing of the DCS dosage is important for memory consolidation. PI: Dr. Smits
  • Neural substrates of biased emotion processing: This project identifies neural activity using fMRI that contribute to difficulty with disengagement of attention from emotion stimuli in depressed and depression vulnerable individuals. PI: Dr. Schnyer
  • Augmenting Internet-Based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Major Depressive Disorder with Low-Level Light Therapy: Cognitive behavioral therapy is a common treatment for Major Depressive Disorder. Several studies now indicate that using Deprexis, an internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy for depression, can significantly improve symptoms of depression among adults with Major Depressive Disorder. In this study, we aim to better understand how low-level light therapy, a near-infrared light that facilitates neuronal energy production and may enhance cognitive changes, can be used to augment the antidepressant effects of Deprexis. PI: Dr. Beevers.
  • CPRIT-YMCA Study: The study examines the use of exercise to enhance the outcome of smoking cessation within smokers who are sensitive to stress and anxiety. Specifically, this study aims to evaluate the feasibility and effectiveness of a community-based personalized exercise-smoking cessation intervention. PI: Dr. Smits
  • Emotion processing in Autism: The primary aim is to examine how high-functioning adolescents with autism spectrum disorders process ambiguous emotional expressions and whether social experiences influence recognition of ambiguous emotional information. PI: Dr. Neal.
  • Depression from Speech Patterns: In this study, we aim to use unique combinations of prosodic and linguistic features of human speech to predict depression diagnoses. The project involves developing cutting-edge audio segmentation, transcription, Natural Language Processing (NLP), and acoustical feature selection algorithms, as well as applying those algorithms to large databases of speech recordings on the Hikari supercomputer at the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC). The project is highly collaborative and includes contributions from experts in machine learning, sound engineering, computational linguistics, affective computing, and clinical psychology. PI: Dr. Beevers.
  • Enhancing Panic and Smoking Reduction Treatment with D-CycloserineThis study aims to evaluate whether d-cycloserine can enhance the outcome of a smoking cessation intervention designed for smokers who have experienced panic attacks. D-cycloserine targets receptors in the brain that are involved in learning and memory. Thus, d-cycloserine is not an antidepressant or anxiolytic medication, but rather an agent that aims to improve the memory of the learning that takes place during psychotherapy session. PI: Dr. Smits
  • Development of Attention Bias Modification for Depression: The overall goal of this project is to continue the development of an attention bias modification (ABM) intervention that targets and reduces negative attention bias among adults with elevated symptoms of depression. Our prior work indicates that attention bias for negative information is associated with the maintenance of depression and that neural circuitry within frontal-parietal brain networks supports biased attention for negative information, thus allowing us to develop specific and targeted interventions that directly alter the neurobiology of negative attention bias. PIs: Dr. Beevers & Dr. Schnyer
  • Physical Activity and Community Engagement (PACE) Among Returning VeteransThe primary objective of this project is to develop and evaluate an integrated community- and exercise-based program that can be “prescribed” to augment existing transition assistance programs for recently discharged veterans. The project involves a collaboration with Team Red White and Blue (RWB)-a non-profit organization that aims to enrich the lives of veterans by enhancing their connection to their community. We will also examine the effect of vigorous-intensity exercise- which has been associated with a number of benefits compared to other levels of exercise intensity (e.g., increases in quality of life and reductions in anxiety). We aim to provide a pilot test of (1) the acceptability and effectiveness of Team RWB for veterans transitioning out of the military and (2) the effectiveness of a vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise prescription for enhancing the efficacy of Team RWB. To this end, we will conduct a randomized controlled trial (RCT) that involves 75 veterans discharged from the US Army at Fort Hood. The primary outcome will be the level of reintegration difficulties. PI: Scarlett Baird
  • Enhancing Cue Exposure Treatment for Smoking Reduction with Isradipine: This Quit Smoking Study is examining the efficacy of the FDA approved medication Isradipine in comparison to placebo for 1) tobacco craving reduction and 2) increasing tobacco abstinence. The study involves a medical screening, questionnaire completion, two treatment sessions, and a one-hour follow up a week later. Treatment and medication is provided free of charge and participants will be compensated $50 upon completion of the study. PI: Santiago Papini

Research projects associated with the IMHR have been generously funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, National Institute on Drug Abuse, the Department of Defense, Brain and Behavior Research Foundation (formerly NARSAD), and the University of Texas at Austin. 

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