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

Coordinator 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 

Laura Pérez

  • Degree in Biology by University of Girona (UdG) and PhD in Mental Health by University of Cadiz (UCA).
  • Expertise in animal models of neuropsychiatric diseases, focusing in behavioral paradigms and molecular techniques.
  • Postdoctoral researcher in the Neurobiology of stress and vulnerability to psychopathology group at Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB).
  • Her current research aims to identify novel biomarkers for Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by using animal models.

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.
Associated researchers

Antonio Luís Florido

  • Degree in Psychology by Universidad de Almería (UAL).
  • Master’s degree in Mental Health: research in psychiatry, neurotoxicology and psychopharmacology.
  • Research technician in animal surgery and behaviour at the Institut de Neurociéncies (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona).
  • PhD Student with current interest in sex differences in molecular and behavioural mechanisms of fear memory formation.
  • Participation in scientific outreach activies, including Pint of Science (2018-2019), Festa de la Ciència (2016), ESCOLAB (2016-2020).

Patricia Molina

  • Degree in Biomedical Sciences by Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB).
  • MSc in Neuroscience by University College London (UCL) awarded with La Caixa Scholarship.
  • Current PhD student in the Neurobiology of stress and vulnerability to psychopathology group at UAB.
  • Her current interests focus on identifying and manipulating neurons activated by different stressors in the prefrontal cortex.
  • Participation in scientific outreach activities, including Pint of Science (2018-2019), Festa de la Ciència (2020), ESCOLAB (2017-2020), Amgen Transferciencia (2020-2021).

Éric Velasco

  • Degree in Medicine in ITESM Monterrey, Mexico. MSc in Neuroscience in Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona (UAB). PhD student in Neuroscience in UAB.
  • Experience in translational research using neurophysiological models in humans and animal models of fear-related disorders.
  • Currently researching the effects of stress on brain circuits and neuropeptide function in females. 

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.
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.