Current Research

Neuroimaging studies of reward, impulsivity, and adherence to an exercise program

  • NIH (R01 DK085605) - Currently enrolling new subjects
  • Study Summary: The objective of this project is to characterize brain activation underlying reward processing and impulse control in obese and healthy weight individuals, to identify brain activation predictors of adherence and success in an exercise program, and to identify the effects of exercise and increased fitness on brain activation. 
  • PIs: Cary Savage, Ph.D.; Joseph Donnelly, Ed.D.

A Pilot Study of Biological Signals of Weight Loss in African American Women

  • Study Summary: The purpose of this study is to examine whether or not there are differences in how African American women's brains react to food pictures depending on whether they are healthy weight or obese.
  • PIs: Cary Savage, Ph.D.; Christie Befort, Ph.D.

Neural Processing of Emotion in Music among Individuals with Major Depression

  • Study Summary: The proposed study will use functional MRI (fMRI) and a music-processing probe to determine whether patterns of brain activation elicited by emotionally evocative auditory stimuli differ between groups with major depressive disorder (MDD) and non-depressed controls.
  • PIs: Rebecca Lepping, Ph.D.; Cary Savage, Ph.D.

Neural Responses to Faces

  • Study Summary: To clarify the nature of unconscious emotional processing in Social Anxiety (SA), the proposed research will use neuroimaging (fMRI) measures in conjunction with backward masking. The specific aim of this study is to investigate the neural underpinnings of unconscious emotional face processing in people with and without SA. The study is specifically focused on amygdala activation during the presentation of masked angry faces.
  • PIs: Liz Duval, Ph.D., Lisa Hale, Ph.D., Cary Savage, Ph.D.

Pilot Study of Reward Processing and Binge Eating Disorder

  • Study Summary: This is an fMRI study examining the reward processing among obese participants who have binge eating disorder. Specifically this study examines similarities and differences in brain responses to rewards among obese participants with and without binge eating disorder compared to healthy weight participants. Data is currently being collected and analyzed.
  • PI: Cary Savage, Ph.D.

Brain function predictors and outcome of weight loss and weight loss maintenance

  • NIH (R01 DK080090)
  • Study Summary: Obesity rates are on the rise and associated with serious public health consequences and rising health care costs. Eating behavior is influenced by a convergence of processes in the brain, including homeostatic factors and motivational and reward processing. Motivational and reward processing are especially important contributors to overeating in humans. Our initial functional imaging studies have identified brain regions that respond differently to visual food cues in obese and healthy weight individuals, and are positively correlated with reports of hunger in obese participants. While shedding some light on mechanisms of overeating, many important questions remain. For instance, it is not yet known whether brain activation patterns change after dieting, or if they change differentially in successful and unsuccessful dieters. In addition, little is currently understood regarding biological processes that contribute to long-term maintenance of healthy weight. We will scan obese and healthy weight participants with a food motivation fMRI paradigm during a baseline state and after obese participants have completed a 12-week diet-based weight loss intervention. Obese participants will then be followed though a six-month weight maintenance period.
    The study will address three specific aims:
    1. Characterize brain activation underlying increased food motivation and impulsive eating in obese individuals.
    2. Identify brain activation changes and predictors of initial weight loss.
    3. Identify brain activation predictors of weight loss maintenance.
    Findings from this study will have significant implications for understanding mechanisms of obesity, weight loss, and weight maintenance, and may ultimately lead to more effective interventions.
  • PI: Cary Savage, Ph.D.

Pupillary Responses and Neural Activation to Face and Non-Face Pictures in Children with ASD

  • Study Summary: This is a two-stage study. The first measures pupillary response in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), while they examine pictures of faces and toys. The second stage is an fMRI study in which these children are scanned while they undergo this task. The goal is to identify brain networks underlying blunted social repose in children with ASD
  • PI: Christa Anderson, Ph.D.; Cary Savage, Ph.D.

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