February 2, 2024

Hello Synapse Spotlight readers,


Welcome to our first newsletter! We're thrilled to connect with you in your inbox. At Society of Biological Psychiatry (SOBP), one of our key objectives is to make neuroscience accessible to a broad audience, so please don't hesitate to share this with your students, grandma, neighbors, and beyond!

In today’s issue, we will delve into groundbreaking research on the impact of neighborhood disadvantage on adolescent brains, the role of stress hormones in shaping trauma responses like PTSD, the heightened effect of social rejection on girls with a history of suicidal behavior, and a graduate student’s efforts to understand mechanisms of resilience in traumatic injury populations. At the bottom, don't miss our mind-bending case study challenging your diagnostic skills in the realm of biological psychiatry. If you’d like to receive future copies of this newsletter, please click the button below.

This is a zoomed-in picture of a brain region called the hippocampus, that helps us remember things and understand space. The colors represent different parts of the hippocampus: the center of the nerve cell (red), nerve cell pathways (blue), and support cells called glial (green) that nourish the nerve cells.


Subscribe to Receive Future Issues

Hot Off the Press: New Research in Biological Psychiatry

Neighborhood disadvantage leaves a mark on adolescent brains: White matter integrity tied to socioeconomic hardships, with a twist for teens battling depression

This study explored how the living conditions of neighborhoods can affect the brain structure of teenagers. The researchers found that higher levels of neighborhood disadvantage, defined by factors like poverty and education, were linked to lower white matter integrity in specific brain regions. Interestingly, this association was more pronounced in adolescents with milder depressive symptoms, highlighting the need for caution when applying these findings to all youth, especially those facing mental health challenges. The lead author, Dr. Tiffany Ho of the University of California, Los Angeles, noted the results suggest that the “policies we enact at a community level could have a major impact - for better or for worse - on developing brains.”

Cracking the code on PTSD: How stress hormones shape trauma responses

Scientists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology studied how hormones called glucocorticoids affect the development of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This study was conducted in rats with a specific genetic trait that mimics a reduced stress response, similar to that observed in individuals with PTSD. The researchers found that these rats displayed traits commonly seen in PTSD patients, such as dysfunctional fear responses, reduced size of a part of the brain (hippocampus) related to memory, and sleep problems. Dr. Carmen Sandi, one of the researchers, explained that having low levels of these stress hormones can predispose individuals to developing PTSD, providing important information for preventing and treating the disorder.

Struggling to cope: New study finds that social rejection hits harder for girls with a history of suicidal behavior

This research studied 138 girls aged 9 to 15 by using brain scans to see how they react to being socially rejected on purpose. The girls who had thoughts of suicide in the past showed more brain activity in an area related to controlling emotions (right inferior frontal gyrus) when faced with rejection, unlike other girls their age. Dr. Adam B. Miller, the lead researcher from RTI International, shared that working with teenagers in hospitals inspired the study, as many felt their emotions were too hard to handle before attempting suicide. About 30% of U.S. high school girls have had thoughts of suicide, and this study helps us understand how social rejection can contribute to these feelings. Dr. Miller mentioned that it's an early study but brings us closer to understanding the brain processes involved in a crisis.

Live from the lab of an SOBP member

Kaley Davis, a third-year clinical psychology doctoral candidate at Marquette University, is researching resilience and post-traumatic growth at the Translational Affective Neuroscience Lab, directed by Dr. Jacklynn Fitzgerald. Using neuroimaging data from traumatic injury survivors, she explores how neural activation during an emotion identification task relates to thriving after trauma. Kaley aims to uncover the brain mechanisms behind post-traumatic growth to inform interventions for those who may need it most.

Click here to learn more about Kaley’s work in the Translational Affective Neuroscience Lab

Brain Teaser

A four year-old male child comes to your clinic for consultation along with his parents. They state he appeared to be developing typically at first, but noted that by age one, he was not maintaining eye contact and seemed more interested in playing with his toys than with his peers. The child did not speak until he was three years of age, and now he only has a vocabulary of approximately 15 words, that he uses repetitively regardless of the context. He meticulously lines up his toy trains and becomes very upset if someone rearranges the wagons, and he does not wear any clothes unless they have a picture of Thomas the Train.

What diagnosis would you be considering at this point?

  1. Social phobia
  2. Autism spectrum disorder
  3. Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  4. Intellectual disability

Scroll to the bottom of the newsletter to find the answer!

Credit: National Neuroscience Curriculum Initiative (NNCI)

How can I learn more?

To learn more about the Society of Biological Psychiatry (SOBP), or to become a professional member, visit https://sobp.org/

To subscribe to our newsletter, click here: https://forms.office.com/r/89rknW0FRK

To reach out to an expert, or for topic suggestions, email [email protected]


To learn more about SOBP journals, click here: https://sobp.org/publications/journals/

Press releases: https://sobp.org/publications/journal-press-releases/


To learn more about the brain and brain disorders, listen to the BrainSTEM podcast, hosted by SOBP members. Available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and more.

How can I get involved?

SOBP is a proud Associate Member of the American Brain Coalition. Visit the website for the American Brain Coalition to learn more about their vision and how together we can advocate for increased support of research that will lead to better treatments for our patients as well as a national commitment towards finding cures for individuals with disabling neurological and psychiatric disorders.

Neuroscience for kids?

Check out these websites: https://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/interr.html and https://sites.krieger.jhu.edu/mnf/for-students/

How can I get help?

We can all help prevent suicide. The 988 Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals in the United States.

Call or text 988; Llama al 988 (para ayuda en español)

Find a therapist in your area with the Psychology Today’s Find a Therapist Tool: www.psychologytoday.com

Visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) website

Visit the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) website

Brain teaser answer: 2