The role of the norepinephrine system in emotionally-biased attention and learning

Individuals vary widely in the aspects of the world they perceive and remember: some filter their environments through rose coloured glasses to perceive sources of pleasure, while others are attuned to signs of threat. Such affective biases in attention influence memory and characterize mood disorders and pathological responses to trauma as well as addictive behaviours. Yet much remains to be learned about neural mechanisms underlying such biases, and the factors that influence their development and potential for change.

Dr. Todd's research will investigate the influence of genetic variation and life experience on emotional biases in learning, attention and memory, and how they can be harnessed to treat affective disorders and addiction. This research will have a direct impact on our understanding of basic neural mechanisms underlying such affective biases, and increase our understanding of how genetic variation and life experience shape these mechanisms to produce behaviours linked to mood disorders and addiction, with important implications for assessing vulnerability and optimizing treatment.

Dr. Todd's five-year research program will work towards an understanding of the role of common genetic variations that influence neurochemical activity in the brain, and the development of behaviour patterns that are linked to mood disorders. Extending her previous work on the influence of genetics and trauma on emotional biases in attention, she will focus on understanding neural mechanisms underlying such biases; investigate whether such biases arise out of individual differences in patterns of emotional learning; and examine the influence of a common genetic variation that influences the availability of norepinephrine in emotional learning. The results of this research will aid understanding of the currently understudied role of norepinephrine in emotional learning patterns linked to mood disorders and addiction.