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The Nathan S. Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research

Schizophrenia Research

Hoptman Lab

Lab Name
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Dr. Hoptman's Neuroscience of Aggression and Impulsivity Lab (NAIL) focuses on understanding the neural basis of aggression and impulsivity in schizophrenia and related disorders using MRI, EEG, and neuromodulation approaches.

Overview

Impulsive behavior is elevated in schizophrenia, but is a multidimensional construct. Moreover, although impulsivity is an important predictor of aggression in people with schizophrenia, particularly in inpatient settings, findings using standard impulsivity questionnaires and behavioral tasks (stop signal task) have been inconsistent, and indeed, these measures are themselves not well correlated.

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In the last 15 years, the dimensions of impulsivity have been refined and extended to include urgency, defined as impulsivity during strong emotional states. Urgency has been shown to be elevated in a number of at-risk populations, including substance use disorders, bipolar disorder, and eating disorders. In people with schizophrenia, lab investigations recently found that urgency is strongly associated with aggressive attitudes in schizophrenia, and indeed urgency accounted for much of the elevated aggression seen  in those patients. What was also evident is that reduced cortical thickness and resting functional synchronization of ventral prefrontal regions of the brain predicts higher levels of urgency. These results suggest that it is urgency that is particularly relevant to our understanding of impulsive aggression in schizophrenia. Next steps include developing behavioral measures of urgency, better characterizing brain activation patterns during these tasks using a multimodal imaging approach, and using neuromodulation techniques to probe urgency-related circuit abnormalities, with the longer term goal of remediating urgency and aggression in schizophrenia.

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Emotional Impulsivity in Schizophrenia

The lab is currently investigating emotional impulsivity (a.k.a., urgency) in patients with schizophrenia and healthy controls using a clinical measure of urgency and a behavioral measure (emotional stop signal task). Brain activation patterns will be examined using fMRI while participants perform the emotional stop signal task. In addition, we are using TMS and cognitive remediation to target relevant neural circuitry to determine whether we can modulate emotional impulsivity in controls.