Washington University in St. Louis researchers Jose A. Moron-Concepcion and Thomas Rodebaugh are among 40 scholars selected to receive 2017 Independent Investigator grants from the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation, one of the top nongovernmental funders of mental health research grants.
Independent Investigator grants provide $50,000 per year for up to two years to support investigators during the critical period between the initiation of research and the receipt of sustained funding.
Moron-Concepcion, an associate professor of anesthesiology in the School of Medicine, will examine the emotional component of pain and study the role of Kappa opioid receptors in pain that occurs along with depression.
Some opioid receptors modulate the sensory component of pain and the negative emotions associated with it. His team will determine whether pain reduces the activity of the same neural circuits that process motivation and reward, and whether manipulation of opioid receptors prevents pain from leading to depression.
Rodebaugh, associate professor of psychological and brain sciences in Arts & Sciences, will examine the biological mechanism through which loneliness can lead to poor health and increased mortality, particularly among older adults. Social support reduces loneliness and shields against mood consequences of stress.
The hormone oxytocin may play a role in the protective effects of social support. Rodebaugh’s team will measure circulating oxytocin levels in the biological samples of an ongoing longitudinal study of older adults to examine associations between this hormone and indices of social function and experience. The findings also will reveal whether oxytocin level can act as a potential biomarker for future vulnerability to loneliness and mental health symptoms.