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The neurobiology of trauma: effects on behavior and brain function

The Project

From the whole population, almost 70% of adults will suffer a highly stressful experience at least once in their lives. Stress and trauma are everywhere around us affecting our body, our brain, and our emotions. Despite being considered something negative, stress is an important reaction of our body that allows us to face real-life challenges and threats in order to keep us alive. Researchers and doctors are very interested in studying the mechanisms that regulate the stress response because their dysfunction results in damaging consequences for our health may trigger the appearance of mental disorders. One example is Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a very common mental disorder that may appear in some vulnerable individuals after experiencing a highly stressful event. People living with this disorder have disabling symptoms related to a deficient detection and management of threats in the environment, they also have strong and recurrent memories about their traumatic experience and some of them present considerable changes in their behavior that keep them hyper-alert and ready to avoid any cue related to their trauma. Importantly, these disorders are much more common in women compared to men and scientists still don’t understand why this is happening. Our research group is interested in knowing which neurobiological factors are making women and females more vulnerable to the effects of trauma and this time we are inviting you to join us in this journey.

In this project, students will work hand in hand with neuroscientists that use animal models to understand how stress affects behavior and brain function. They will acquire competencies to observe and analyze different kinds of behavioral tests that evaluate the levels of anxiety, exploration, memory, and social interaction, among others. They will explore how sex hormones interact with stress and try to rescue these negative alterations of behavior by using different pharmacological approaches shortly after trauma. Additionally, they will be able to evaluate the expression of crucial biomarkers of stress using biomolecular techniques. Using immunodetection assays, brain structures will be explored at a neuronal level, trying to identify which areas are the ones affected by stress. 

During this project, students will learn about the impact of stress on the brain and gain the ability to make their own future hypotheses. They will use state-of-the-art techniques widely used in Neuroscience and collaborate with scientists in their day-to-day. Also, they will acquire data processing and analysis skills which are crucial for any modern scientist. We expect students to be highly motivated to learn about brain function and how it processes stressors. With their work, they will contribute to the understanding of brain function and stress processing, specifically in females.

Matching profiles
  • Motivated by science and research
  • Highly enthusiastic and collaborative
  • Basic background in biology is recommended
Learning objectives
  • To study brain’s responses to an acute stressor
  • To learn about several laboratory techniques, such as molecular biology and histology
  • To analyze behavioral data 
  • To interpret the results
Required materials
  • Lab coat
  • Personal laptop
Coordinators of the project

Lydia Giménez-Llort

  • Third woman in Spain as Full Professor on Psychiatry.
  • Expert in Healthy Aging and Translational Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Member Observatory for Equality at UAB  Commission, Head at School of Medicine, Nursery and Physioteraphy   
  • Member of European COST-Action Td1005, experts on Pain in impaired cognition, especially Dementias.
  • Spanish leader Fet-OPen-Project for research and innovation around news ideas towards radically new future technologies in Science 

Raül Andero

  • ICREA Research Professor at UAB.
  • Previous positions at Emory and Harvard.
  • The laboratory studies Translational Mechanisms of Fear Memories.
  • Lead author of publications in top journals such as Neuron, Science Translational Medicine and Biological Psychiatry.
  • Expertise in combining data in both humans and animal models in the neuroscience field.

Ignacio Javier Marín Blasco

  • Degree in Biochemistry by Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (UAM) and PhD in Neurosciences by Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB), studying the specificity of the neuronal populations involved in the response to different emotional stressors.
  • Postdoctoral researcher in the pharmaceutical industry developing new epigenetic therapies.
  • Currently, postdoctoral researcher at Anderolab, looking for translational markers of traumatic stress.
Associated researchers

Daniel Alveal

  • Degree in Kinesiology by Universidad de la Frontera (UFRO), Temuco, Chile.
  • MSc in Morphology by Universidad de la Frontera (UFRO), Temuco, Chile.
  • MSc in Neuroscience by Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB), recipient of a CONICYT-ANID grant from the Chilean government.
  • Current PhD student in the Behavioral Neuroscience laboratory group in UAB.
  • Experience on human neuro-anatomical dissection and translational research using animal models of Alzheimer’s disease.

Leire Rodríguez Romero

  • BSc in Psychology. Final project and intership in psychoneuroimmunology (UPV/EHU).
  • MSc in Neurosciences. Final project and intership in Translational Mechanisms of Fear Memory (AnderoLab, UAB).
  • Current PhD Student in AnderoLab working on fear memory macrocircuitry.

Juan Fraile Ramos

  • Degree of biology by Universidad de Alcalá (UAH), Madrid. 
  • MSc in biochemistry, Molecular biology and biomedicine by Universitat autònoma de Barcelona (UAB). 
  • Current PhD student in the Translational Behavioral Neuroscience lab group in Institut of Neurosciences UAB.
  • Experience in behavioral, metabolic and homeostatic regulation during aging and neurodegenerative processes using animal models.

Jaime Fabregat Nabías

  • Degree in Psychology by Universitat Jaume I (UJI).
  • MSc in Neurosciences by Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB).
  • Research experience in functional neuroimaging.
  • Currently, PhD student at Anderolab focusing on the study of biological influences in fear conditioning in humans.
The center

The Institute of Neurosciences (INc) situated at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) is a research university center, with around 200 members, devoted to the investigation of the central nervous system from a multidisciplinary and translational approach.