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Translational Neuroscience Laboratory

The Translational Neuroscience Laboratory, directed by Jon-Kar Zubieta, MD, PhD, Professor and Chair, Department of Psychiatry, University of Utah Health, is dedicated to the understanding of complex neural conditions and utilize this knowledge for the development of new prevention and treatment strategies.

Current projects include the investigation of brain neurotransmitters implicated in the development of Major Depression, a common psychiatric illness that affects nearly 15% of the population in our lifetimes and is the leading cause of disability across the world. In spite of its frequency, the causes of Major Depression remain poorly understood.

Similarly, we study chronic pain conditions, which affect nearly one-third of the U.S. population and are often associated with depression symptoms. Chronic pain is often unrelenting and perpetuates without known cause in many of the patients affects. Substance use disorders, and in particular the ongoing opioid epidemic, are the cause of severe suffering, impairment and death. Once exposed to a potentially addictive substance, there are individuals that are predisposed to their misuse and abuse, while others are able to abstain without difficulty. The causes of these interindividual variations in responses to, for example, opioids, are not well understood and one of the focus of the Translational Neuroscience Laboratory.

Across various projects, we utilize positron emission tomography (PET) to examine brain receptors and neurotransmitters thought to underlie interindividual differences in risk, presentation and treatment response of our patients. These measures, combined with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) allow us to determine objectively variations in brain chemistry and function critical for the development and progression of the illnesses under consideration. These, together with genetic analyses and the examination of differences in the presentation and progression of illness, allow us to target specific neural networks and mechanisms to improve the outcomes of a variety of brain-based illnesses.

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