Chrystal Vergara-Lopez, PhD

Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior


Advance-CTR Mentored Research Awards (2017)

"Attentional and Neuroendocrine Mechanisms of Depression Among Adolescent Girls"

Adolescent depression is common, shows continuity with adult depression and is associated with numerous adverse outcomes. While adolescent depression is a worldwide and U.S. public health concern, RI youth are at an increased risk (relative to youth in the U.S. as a whole) for experiencing problems with depression. Thus, research on adolescent depression is a critical healthcare need in RI. Few promising biomarkers of risk for adolescent depression have been identified. Converging lines of research reveal that interpersonal stress is a prominent trigger for adolescent depression. However, the neurobiological mechanisms by which interpersonal stress confers risk for depression are not well understood. It is proposed that dysregulation in neuroendrocrine and attentional processes make it difficult to effectively cope with stressful experiences. That is, heightened neuroendocrine function will deplete and deactivate neurocognitive resources which are needed to disengage from stressful experiences, and result in repetitive negative thinking (rumination). It is hypothesized that attentional bias and neuroendocrine dysregulation will prospectively predict rumination, leading to an affective reaction that has been shown to be at the core of depression (decreased positive affect and increased negative affect). These research aims are significant because identifying critical biomarkers to quantify neurobiological dysregulation is crucial for developing therapeutic targets, evaluating treatment response, and ultimately, elucidating causal pathways to preempt depression. The proposed project will capitalize on already collected data from my mentor’s project (R01 MH092450), increasing the feasibility of the proposed study. This secondary analysis will utilize 85 adolescent girls at varying levels of risk for depression. Of relevance to the proposed study, participants have completed saliva samples to assess neuroendocrine function, a dot-probe task during functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to assess attentional bias, and a 12-month follow-up utilizing daily dairy reports to assess rumination and mood. Training will include mentored and formal didactic seminars in neuroimaging, neuroendocrine functioning, and advanced statistical skills for analyzing nested data from ecological sampling methods (e.g., daily diaries). This training grant will provide the technical skills needed to translate basic developmental neuroscience research into meaningful improvements that can be used in clinical practice.