The Connectomes for Emotional Disorders Project



Our Connectomes for Emotional Disorders Project is using cutting edge imaging technology to improve how we detect and understand mood and anxiety disorders. By using imaging, we can define precise types of depression and anxiety. Using these types, we can improve treatments and enhance lives otherwise ruined by these disorders.

Our new approach is to model these disorders based on the way that underlying brain circuits are disrupted, and not by traditional diagnoses.

This way, we can understand how different types of brain circuit disruptions lead to different experiences of depression and anxiety in each individual person.

The Connectomes for Emotional Disorders Project in the PanLab is one part of the multi-site Human Connectome Project. Learn more about the project here.




Our mission is to characterize the different human brain connectomes that contribute to each person’s experience of depression and anxiety. In doing so, we can create customized treatments and preventions for every type of connectome. 


We use a variety of methods to help us understand the connectomes for depression and anxiety, including:

1) Brain scans to map with precision the connections among brain circuits 

2) Behavioral measures to assess cognitive capacities, such as memory and problem solving, that relate to these brain circuits

3) Clinical measures to understand each person’s life experience and symptoms

Through our Connectomes for Emotional Disorders Project, we will develop a new model for understanding each person’s experience of mood and anxiety symptoms.



For this study, we are seeking people who are:

  • Ages 18-35
  • Currently experiencing anxiety and/or depression symptoms (with or without a clinical diagnosis)
  • Not currently receiving treatment
  • No substance or alcohol abuse within the past 12 months
  • No lifetime history of psychosis
  • fMRI scanning eligibility, including no evidence of any form of metal embedded in the body (i.e., pacemakers, surgical clips, metal wires, etc.) and not currently pregnant or breastfeeding

Study Phases

1. Screening - Online Screening Survey

The online screening survey is done to make sure the study is a good fit for you.

To take this survey, you can go to the following link:


Location: Completed anywhere

Duration: 10-15 minutes

When: Whenever is best for you!

Compensation: None

2. Baseline Assessment

The study visit will consist of gathering information on your anxiety and depression symptoms, genetics, performance on cognitive tasks, and brain activation patterns.

Specific tasks include:

1) Non-invasive MRI Scan (2.5-3 hrs)

2) Symptom Questionnaires (45 min)

3) Diagnostic Interview (15 min)

4) Computer and iPad Tasks (1.5 hrs)

5) Saliva Sample (1 min)


Location: Stanford University

Duration: 6-7 hours

When: ASAP after completion of the online screening survey

Compensation: $99, a complementary lunch, an image of your brain, a report of your cognitive functioning

3. Follow Ups

Part 1:

Brief online survey

Location: Completed anywhere

Duration: 10-15 minutes

When: 3 months after baseline assessment

Compensation: $25


Part 2:

Brief online survey

Location: Completed anywhere

Duration: 10-15 minutes

When: 6 months after baseline assessment

Compensation: $25


Part 3:

Brief online survey

Location: Completed anywhere

Duration: 10-15 minutes

When: 9 months after baseline assessment

Compensation: $25


Part 4:

Brief online survey

Brief phone interview

Cognitive Testing

Location: Completed anywhere

Duration: 60-70 minutes

When: 12 months after baseline assessment

Compensation: $50



If you are interested in participating in the study, please complete the following online screening survey:

Filling out the online screening survey means you’re putting your name on our waitlist, and we’ll contact you as soon as possible. If we do not contact you right away, it means we may not be currently recruiting participants, but will be in touch as soon as possible once the study becomes active again.

Thank you for your interest in our studies!


Leanne Williams, PhD

Principal Investigator

Katherine Grisanzio

PanLab Manager

Brooke Staveland

Neuroimaging Research Coordinator

Bailey Holt-Gosselin

Neuroimaging Research Coordinator

Druthi Ghanta

Neuroimaging Research Coordinator

Carlos Correa

Scientific Data Curator

Andrea Goldstein-Piekarski, PhD

Faculty Collaborator

Zoe Samara, PhD

Postdoctoral Fellow

Hua Wu, PhD

MRI Research Engineer

Ian Gotlib, PhD


Trevor Hastie, PhD


Russ Poldrack, PhD


Brian Wandell, PhD


Max Wintermark, MD



Funding for our Connectomes for Emotional Disorders Project is provided by the National Institutes of Health (NIH): Human Connectome Project.

Title: “Mapping Connectomes for Disordered Emotional States”

Number: U01MH109985 under PAR-14-281


Watch our video that explains the PanLab’s approach to researching depression:

The Brain Networks of Interest

Our goal is to use Human Connectome Project (HCP) protocols to collect imaging, behavioral, genetic, and symptom data from 300 individuals who are experiencing a moderate or higher level of anxiety and/or depression symptoms. We ground our investigation in the NIMH Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) initiative, which provides a framework for research aimed at classifying psychiatric disorders based on neural mechanisms.

We are specifically recruiting anxious and/or depressed individuals who are experiencing varying degrees of:

1) acute threat

2) loss of reward valuation/responsiveness, and/or

3) difficulties in working memory

In the brain scanner, participants will complete a variety of emotional and cognitive tasks that will engage neural networks related to these RDoC constructs.

#1: Acute Threat

What is acute threat?

The acute threat construct, also known as “fear,” is defined within the RDoC Negative Valence System (NVS) domain. Acute threat involves responses to facial expressions of threat, such as fear and anger.

What brain regions are involved?


At the neural level, acute threat is defined by components of affective networks that comprise the amygdala, insula, anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), and medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC).


Previous studies have shown altered processing of acute threat, involving the amygdala-ACC/mPFC activation and connectivity, across multiple diagnostic categories of disordered emotional states. Individuals with mood and anxiety disorders have been shown to exhibit hyper-activation in the amygdala and hypo-activation in the ACC during MRI tasks that involve viewing fearful and angry facial expressions. 

What clinical symptoms relate to acute threat?

Network dysfunctions in acute threat processing may contribute to negative biases in regulating behavioral responses to threat and to symptoms of fear and physiological arousal across disordered emotional states. 

#2: Reward Valuation/Responsiveness

What is reward valuation/responsiveness?

The reward valuation/responsiveness construct is defined within the RDoC Positive Valence System (PVS) domain. Tasks that elicit this construct involve making decisions to obtain rewarding stimuli (i.e., winning money in a gambling task), as well as responsiveness to outcomes and feedback.

What brain regions are involved?



At the neural level, reward valuation/responsiveness is defined by components of affective networks that comprise the dorsal striatum, orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), and ventral medial prefrontal cortex (vMPFC).


Previous studies have shown that individuals with symptoms of depression display hypo-activation in the striatum and hyper-activation in the OFC during reward processing tasks. 

What clinical symptoms relate to reward valuation/responsiveness?

Atypical activation patterns in the reward valuation/responsiveness brain circuit in depressed patients may contribute to symptoms of anhedonia, referred to as the inability to experience pleasure in normally pleasurable activities.


What is working memory?

The working memory construct is defined within the RDoC Cognitive System (CS) domain, which involves active maintenance of information, flexible updating, limited capacity processing, and interference control.

What brain regions are involved?


The brain areas involved in these processes include the dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), dorsal parietal cortex (DPC), precentral gyrus (PCG), and anterior cingulate cortex (ACC).


Several studies have shown that patients with depression exhibit hypo-activation in the DLPFC and ACC during working memory tasks. Additionally, depressed patients have shown hyper-connectivity between the ACC, DLPFC, and DPC, which is posited to reflect an inability to engage in working memory and suppress internal thoughts. 

What clinical symptoms relate to difficulties in working memory?

In individuals with anxiety and depression symptoms, network dysfunctions in working memory may contribute to symptoms of cognitive rumination and worry.


What is default mode?

The default mode network (DMN) is not considered as a definitive construct in its own right, rather is defined as a mode that contributes to multiple RDoC systems including the NVS, PVS, and CS domains. The DMN is active when an individual is not engaged in any tasks (aka during “resting state”).

What brain regions are involved?


The specific brain areas involved in the DMN include the anterior medial prefrontal cortex (amPFC), angular gyrus (AG), and posterior cingulate cortex (PCC).


Studies investigating anxious and depressed individuals have shown that these patients exhibit hyper-activation and hyper-connectivity of certain brain regions that comprise the DMN.

What clinical symptoms relate to hyper-activity of the default mode?

Hyper-activity in the frontal subnetwork of the DMN has been associated with maladaptive rumination, which is defined as when an individual compulsively focuses their attention on the various aspects of situations that are upsetting.



Through our Connectomes for Emotional Disorders Project, we aim to:


•Characterize the structural and functional connectome in depression and anxiety

•Quantify the relations between specific brain circuits, clinical symptoms, and performance on cognitive tasks

•Use the functional and structural connectome types to predict behavior, symptoms, and function over one year

We hope that our research will ultimately transform the diagnosis and treatment of depression and anxiety disorders, so that we can potentially improve the lives of over 400 million people in the world who are currently suffering from these mental health problems.


If you are interested in learning more about the Connectomes for Emotional Disorders Project or participating, please feel free to:

Send us an email at

Text or call us at 650-427-9634

From Left to Right: Druthi Ghanta, Zoe Samara, Andrea Goldstein-Piekarski, Brooke Staveland, Leanne Williams, Bailey Holt-Gosselin, Katherine Grisanzio

We look forward to hearing from you!