Logo title:  The Nathan S. Kline Institute For Psychiatric Research, N.Y. State Office of Mental Health  

The Emotional Brain Institute (EBI)

The Emotional Brain Institute (EBI) is a collaborative research endeavor between New York University (NYU) and the Nathan S. Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research (NKI) aimed at understanding the neuroscience of emotions and their impact on behavior. The Institute is comprised of a multi-disciplinary group of researchers whose work focuses on looking at the origins of emotion from the level of behavior to neural systems, cell activity, molecules, and genes.

EBI investigators address pressing issues about the genetic roots, molecular foundations, and memory mechanisms that underlie normal fear and the susceptibility for the development of anxiety disorders, especially in children. They are working on large scale prevention strategies that will be developed, tested, and implemented in collaboration with clinical investigators at the NYU Child Study Center, the NYU Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and with NKI---in partnership with educators and policymakers throughout New York City and New York State.

Joseph LeDoux, PhDThe EBI is directed by Joseph LeDoux, PhD, of the Center for Neural Science at NYU, a world renowned researcher in the study of the brain mechanisms of emotion. His books, The Emotional Brain and Synaptic Self, have been translated into numerous languages and are used to guide researchers and clinicians in their efforts to understand and treat emotions. His work at the EBI aims to build on his past groundbreaking research using animal models to unlock the secrets of emotions, especially fear and anxiety. Fear and anxiety are of interest on their own, but also contribute to common psychiatric disorders across the lifespan. Dr. LeDoux is a University Professor, Henry and Lucy Moses Professor of Science, and Professor of Neural Science and Psychology at NYU.

Anxiety and fear are normal responses to threatening events. However, when fear and anxiety are expressed beyond the extent called for by the situation, an anxiety disorder exists. More than 40 million Americans suffer from anxiety disorders, at a cost of more than $50 billion per year. Because anxiety disorders do not necessarily remove people from their societal roles, anxious children often remain in schools and anxious adults remain in the workforce, both in compromised states.

Anxiety also makes depression, schizophrenia, autism, mental retardation, eating disorders, and drug addiction worse by facilitating worry and causing memory and attention deficits. In addition, it can exacerbate the effects of other medical problems such as cancer or heart disease by potentiating the effects of stress and compromising immune reactions.

According to Dr. LeDoux's research, negative emotions such as fear and anxiety are the root of human suffering. These emotions impair memory, attention, decision-making and creativity, and inhibit social behavior. Moreover, early stress and anxiety make it harder to regulate emotions later in life. Through better understanding of emotional systems, EBI researchers hope to identify ways to retrain the brain to inhibit negative emotions and thereby release these other systems from the tyranny of anxiety. The development of such evidence-based treatment will have far-reaching implications.


Two prominent research groups joined the EBI in Summer 2008.

The laboratory of Donald Wilson, PhD (a research scientist at NKI and a Research Professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the NYU/Langone School of Medicine) focuses on perceptual learning, sensory gating, object coding, and hedonic coding in the mammalian olfactory system. Perception of odors involves a synthesis of often hundreds of molecular features into perceptual objects, similar to visual object recognition. Interestingly, in olfaction this process occurs primarily not in a neocortical architecture, but rather in neural ensembles within a trilaminar cortex similar to hippocampus. The olfactory system has tight, reciprocal links with both the limbic system and frontal cortex, and thus presents as an excellent model system for understanding a range of cognitive processes including memory, sensory perception, and emotional modulation and regulation, all of which are addressed in his lab. His recent book, Learning to Smell, has been hailed as "a landmark that may reshape efforts in this field." (Nature Neuroscience).

The laboratory of Regina Sullivan, PhD (research scientist at NKI and a Research Professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the NYU/Langone School of Medicine) focuses on the ontogeny of fear and the amygdala in infant rats. Dr. Sullivan's lab is particularly interested in unique early life constraints on fear learning and how this strengthens pups' attachment to their mother. Her lab's current research is characterizing how the simple presence of the mother can switch olfactory fear conditioning to odor preference learning through modulation of corticosterone, the amygdala and the olfactory circuit. Her work has also demonstrated how early life emotional experiences can have lifelong consequences, and she is attempting to reverse the negative aspects of these early life experiences. Dr Sullivan's unique and exciting research program involves both animal models and human infant work.

Over the next several years, approximately four additional researchers will be hired to complement the efforts of Drs. LeDoux, Sullivan and Wilson. This team will constitute a cohesive unit focused on the study of fear and anxiety. LeDoux believes that "Anxiety is the low hanging fruit in psychiatry. It's just not as complex and mysterious as schizophrenia, depression or autism, and we have a tremendous head start given how much we've learned and can continue to learn from the excellent animal models of fear and anxiety. With the right team and sufficient researchers we can make a lot of progress over the next decade."

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