Cheryl Conrad

Home Faculty Cheryl Conrad
Department: 
School of Psychology
Endorsed to: 
Chair
Research Interests: 
Behavioral Neuroscience

The ultimate goal of my research program is to investigate the mechanisms by which stress influences brain plasticity and resilience. The stress response is key to organism survival: It is highly conserved across vertebrate species because it allows organisms to respond to environmental change. However, a stress response that persists or is repeatedly activated can have substantial negative consequences on brain plasticity and resilience. A reduction of brain plasticity is thought to contribute to many psychological conditions such as depression, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic-stress disorder (PTSD) and Alzheimer’s disease. Consequently, studying conditions that attenuate or accentuate brain plasticity are essential to understanding the mechanisms of adaptation and many neurological disorders. In my laboratory’s research, we use a rodent chronic stress model to investigate brain plasticity and resilience. In particular, the limbic brain structures, such as the hippocampus, are part of a neural network engaged in memory processing and are also regions containing one of the highest concentrations of receptors for stress steroids, such as cortisol in humans and corticosterone in rodents. We are interested in disentangling the process by which chronic stress influences the limbic system and the hippocampus to alter cognition. We use methods to determine neuronal dendritic complexity, targeted brain activation/inactivation and behavioral assessments (anxiety tasks, spatial cognition assessment) to understand the neurobiology of chronic stress.