The NSL is a hub for innovative work in the University of Kentucky College of Medicine. We aim to advance the understanding of neurobehavioral dysfunctions existing in clinical disorders using cross-disciplinary approaches. 

Here is what we are integrating into our methods:

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The nervous system is a complex network of nerves and cells that coordinate an individual’s actions and sensory information. The inherent nature of brain processes can be studied through the physiology and biology of neural networks; various neuroimaging techniques allow us to observe this. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans produce detailed images of brain structure while functional-MRI (fMRI) scans measure brain activity by detecting changes associated with blood flow. We utilize this information by isolating nodal regions of interest for examining connectivity of brain networks, calculating parameters of brain activity, and navigating the brain to accurately target transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). 

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Behavioral Science

Human behavior encapsulates both potential and expressed relationships between actions, cognition, and emotions—it is how we operate and interact. Behavioral dysfunctions exist in many clinical disorders which can affect how an individual learns, feels, reacts, remembers things, etc.  In our research, decision making, working memory, and delayed discounting tasks, in addition to visual analogue scale (VAS) questionnaires, allow us to probe the deficits in decision-making and affective processes in individuals with substance use disorders (SUD). Applying probabilistic reinforcement learning techniques that better represent real world scenarios and choices is of great interest to us as the field moves towards more complex findings. 

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Non-Invasive Brain Stimulation

A neuron (nerve cell) transmits information to other neurons by conducting an electrical impulse, known as an action potential, along its axon. As a brilliant biological example of an electrical conductor, neurons also experience a change in their activity under a varying magnetic field. TMS, which is Food and Drug Administration approved to treat depression, uses an electromagnet at the scalp to generate magnetic field pulses that can activate axons and fire action potentials. However, the mechanism by which TMS influences brain function is not well understood, and our research, in part, aims to better understand its inhibitory vs excitatory effect on neural activity. 

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A drug is a chemical substance that can incite a biological or physiological effect on the body, and pharmacology is the study of this interaction. The duality present in this branch can exist in the use of drugs as an intervention technique and the abuse of drugs in those with substance use disorders. Drug administration for intervention (e.g., acute or maintenance) can mediate neurotransmitter function (neuron communication) at a microscopic level providing desired effects. In misuse and overuse, neurobehavioral dysfunctions can arise giving way to symptoms like lack of volitional control over thoughts, feelings, and actions. Our lab is interested in the mechanisms underlying pharmacology as intervention, as well as the combined effects of drug use on the microscopic level with TMS on the macroscopic level. 

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Computational Modeling

Computational techniques allow for efficient and high throughput calculations across different disciplines of interest. Mass-univariate and multivariate statistical approaches for data analysis include parametric mapping using graph theory and general linear modeling. Additionally, we wish to establish and test new hypotheses for models of behavior, like learning, using supervised machine learning to predict and recognize patterns