Photo of Daniela Schiller
Daniela Schiller, PhD
    • Positions
    • ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR | Neuroscience
    • ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR | Psychiatry
    • Language
    • English

The Neural mechanisms of emotional control and flexibility

Dr. Schiller's line of research focuses on the neural mechanisms underlying emotional control. Because the environment we live in is constantly changing, our learned emotional responses need to be continuously updated to appropriately reflect current circumstances. Understanding the neural mechanisms that make such emotional flexibility may shed light on the impairments leading to anxiety disorders and may also promote new forms of treatment.

In her doctoral research she studied one such aspect of emotional learning, namely, the ability to acquire emotional responses to previously ignored stimuli, which is impaired in patients suffering from chronic schizophrenia. Under the mentorship of Ina Weiner, she developed an animal model of this symptom (persistent latent inhibition) and examined the underlying neural circuitry, as well as the efficacy of antipsychotic drugs in ameliorating it.

For post-doctoral training, Dr. Schiller chose to extend her knowledge to human emotional systems under the mentorship of Elizabeth Phelps and Joseph LeDoux. Together, they came up with a translational research program aimed at extending fundamental findings in rats to humans. This research project includes parallel findings in rats and humans on the recovery of extinguished fear, elucidation of the neural circuitry of flexible fear reversal, and how fear motivates instrumental responding. In addition, to extend these findings to more complex situations unique to humans, she's investigating how emotional systems are recruited to rapidly evaluate others during initial social encounters.

Finally, in extreme situations, when emotional memories become traumatic, it might be beneficial to erase fear memories altogether preventing them from resurfacing. New evidence in rats and other non-human species suggests this might be possible using pharmacological manipulations. However, these finding have yet to be demonstrated convincingly in humans. Dr. Schiller is currently testing this possibility, by examining whether emotional memories induced in the laboratory can be erased using beta-adrenergic receptor blockade as well as drug-free behavioral manipulations. These studies are essential in providing a critical link between animal models and the clinical population.

Visit Dr. Daniela Schiller's Laboratory of Affective Neuroscience for more information.

Research Topic

Brain Imaging, Cognitive Neuroscience, Depression, Memory

Multi-Disciplinary Training Area

Neuroscience [NEU]