Research Projects

Overview

Our lab conducts behavioral and neuroimaging studies in the cognitive neuroscience of memory, aging and dementia prevention. We use structural and functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) methods to investigate how biological and demographic variables (i.e. biological sex,  genetics, sex hormones, education, bilingualism, etc. ) impact the neural networks mediating episodic memory encoding and retrieval across the adult lifespan.  We also conduct parallel studies in adults with risk factors for late-onset Alzheimer’s Disease.

The goals of our research program are to understand:

  • How does the brain encode and retrieve episodic memories?
  • How does healthy aging impact the neural correlates of learning and memory across the adult lifespan?
  • How does biological sex, stress, hormones and lifestyle factors influence cognitive and brain function as we age?
  • How do these changes differ in adults at-risk vs. not at-risk of AD?
  • What differentiates older adults who perform as well as young adults on memory tasks (high-performers), from those who exhibit age-related memory decline?

Ongoing Research Projects

Cross-sectional adult lifespan studies in the cognitive neuroscience of episodic memory. This line of research is focused on understanding healthy brain aging and episodic memory. We use structural and functional MRI methods to  examine how age-related differences in brain structure and function impact memory and cognition. We are especially interested in understanding why some adults show relative maintenance of episodic memory function with increasing age, while others do not.  The goal of this line of research is to gain deeper insight into the neural basis of cognitive aging and how individual differences in aging trajectories relate to the concepts of compensation, reserve, and maintenance.

The impact of biological sex, menopausal status, and lifestyle factors  on memory and brain function at midlife. Midlife is a critical time in adult development when the day-to-day stress related to achieving work/life balance converges with the initial signs of neuro-cognitive aging.  In women, these challenges are exacerbated by the hormonal changes associated with menopausal transition at midlife.   This research project explores how stress levels, lifestyle choices, and hormones impact cognition and brain function in middle aged adults. We are specifically interested in how menopausal transition impacts neural network activity and connectivity in women and how this relates to episodic memory and executive functioning.

Studying the impact of risk factors for AD on the structural and functional neural networks of episodic memory in still-healthy pre-symptomatic adults. Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is the leading cause of dementia in our senior population. Episodic memory impairment is a consistent, pronounced deficit in pre-clinical stages of late-onset AD. Individuals with risk factors for AD exhibit altered brain function several decades prior to the onset of AD-related symptoms. In our lab we are interested in examining if adults with genetic risk for AD exhibit structural and functional alterations within the episodic memory network compared to controls, and if these differences interact with biological sex, menopausal transition, stress, and lifestyle variables.

The cognitive neuroscience of episodic memory. This line of research explores how young adults encode and retrieve contextual details about past experiences (spatial and temporal context memory). In collaboration with our colleagues at McGill University, University of Toronto and University of Calgary we are interested in examining the link between perception, attention and memory. We aim to understand how regional activation and network connectivity within ventral visual, medial temporal, and fronto-parietal  cortices influence these abilities and how individual differences in brain structure relate to differences in brain activity and connectivity. To this aim we apply multivariate activation, connectivity and brain signal variability image analyses, and also conduct mediation and conditional mediation analyses.

MRI methods development. This research focuses on leading and conducting research into the development of novel technologies, MRI sequences and analysis tools to support the research conducted in my lab and other labs at the Douglas Brain Imaging Centre (BIC) to advance translational neuroscience research in mental health.

 

Thank you to the following agencies for supporting our research: