Philip Corlett, an Assistant Professor at Yale University and 2013 Rising Star Awardee, is conducting research to reveal how brain circuits differ in individuals with and without auditory hallucinations and a diagnosis of psychosis. His basic hypothesis is that an individual’s interpretation of external sensory stimuli, such as sounds or voices, depends on both the perception of the sensation, as well as on internal predictions about what to expect. To test his hypothesis, he and his team developed a computer program that flashed a picture on the screen that was paired with an auditory tone, what is referred to as “Pavlovian or classical conditioning”. After he trained subjects to associate the picture and the tone, he then intermittently flashed the picture without the tone to evaluate their ability to “unpair” them. Importantly, Dr. Corlett and his team were able to incorporate this testing apparatus into an MRI and collect simultaneous data about brain function and circuit activation. More information about Dr. Corlett’s elegant and intriguing research design is available on the Science Magazine video.
Using his combined MRI and behavioral testing paradigm, Dr. Corlett identified areas within the brain, such as the superior temporal gyrus, anterior cingulate cortex, cerebellum, midbrain, striatum and anterior insula (all regions engaged by conditioned hallucinations) that responded differently in subjects with and without hallucinations. Based on these observations, Dr. Corlett investigated whether altering neuronal activity in the superior temporal gyrus with transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) could improve hallucinations. He and his team discovered that 4 weeks of daily sessions applying TMS to the superior temporal gyrus indeed decreased hallucinations and other symptoms, and also improved cognitive function. Furthermore, comparisons of pre- and post-TMS brain function demonstrated a normalization of activity in the circuit identified in his Science paper. Although the study employed a small sample and open label design, these early results are encouraging and warrant a larger-scale placebo controlled replication.
Dr. Corlett is also to be congratulated on his rapid dissemination of research findings, including many collaborative studies that resulted in 10 new publications. He has also presented or scheduled to present his research at 12 national or international meetings. Discovery and dissemination of knowledge are both key steps toward eventual uptake and implementation into clinical practice and policies.
We at One Mind acknowledge his commitment and dedication to brain health research that has resulted in such outstanding productivity. We also acknowledge and thank our donors for their support to the Rising Stars Awards program.
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Watch the interview between Dr. Philip Corlett and One Mind President, Brandon Staglin: