Early Life Stress and Pediatric Anxiety Program

Imaging, Cortisol, and Sleep Studies: A Neuroscientific Approach

The fundamental goal of neuroscience is to better understand how the brain works. In his work on PTSD, Dr. Carrion has used neuroscientific methods, such as functional neuroimaging, to study the cognitive processes of the children he treats. By doing this, he has been able to identify specific biomarkers for trauma-related stress that have in turn informed treatment interventions. Some of these biomarkers include decreased hippocampal activity during memory tasks, increased activation of the amygdala during an emotional function task, and increased pre-bedtime cortisol (a stress hormone) levels.

Dr. Carrion and his team plan to perform these same structural assessments on children who come to the pediatric anxiety clinic, which will enable us to identify biomarkers for anxiety. These assessments entail neuroimaging and studies of cortisol levels and sleep architecture in various disorders that have comorbidity with anxiety and mood. Dr. Carrion’s previous studies of cortisol levels in children with PTSD have proven that cortisol is secreted during stress. Because having any psychiatric disorder is itself a cause of stress, analyzing cortisol levels in children with anxiety and mood disorders could reveal critical new information about these conditions. Dr. Carrion’s interest in sleep stems from his observation that a very common component of anxiety is disruption to sleep. By analyzing sleep as a component of his neuroscientific approach, we will identify the sleep architecture that accompanies different disorders, and determine whether sleep problems may actually put certain children at risk for anxiety.

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