Center for Functional MRI In the Department of Radiology

Research Studies at CFMRI

Since the inception of the CFMRI, a wide variety of studies have been conducted involving several UCSD Departments and Affiliates.  Here is a sample of some of the main research topics that Principal Investigators (PIs) are focusing on using the advanced imaging resources at the CFMRI.

Note for PIs: To edit this information or to add new research being conducted at the CFMRI please Submit a request.


Dr. Susan Tapert

Dr. Tapert’s research focuses on brain functioning in adolescents with substance use disorders, using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), functional MRI, diffusion tensor imaging, and neuropsychological testing. For more information, please see

Dr. Martin Paulus
Dr Paulus has been interested in understanding decision-making processes and their dysfunction in psychiatric populations. In particular, how decision-making dysfunctions contribute to transition from casual use of drugs to drug dependence and how these dysfunctions contribute to relapse in individuals with stimulant dependence.


Dr. Mark Bondi and Dr. Amy Jak

The Aging and Cognition Laboratory (PIs: Dr. Mark Bondi & Dr. Amy Jak) is dedicated to obtaining a better understanding of both the normal and abnormal aging process. Research focuses on

  • assessment of older adults at increased risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease (AD) in an effort to better detect and characterize its incipient stages
  • examining the role of genetic and neurobehavioral factors in recovery following traumatic brain injury (TBI)

To achieve these aims, the laboratory uses neuroimaging methods to examine neural and vascular correlates of cognitive functioning. Current projects at the CFMRI use arterial spin labeling (ASL), functional ASL/BOLD, diffusion tensor imaging, and resting-state fMRI to examine cerebrovascular contributions to AD risk, neurovascular correlates of semantic networks and episodic memory function, and functional network connectivity in older adults. 

Dr. William Kremen
The major focus of Dr. Kremen’s research is the longitudinal study of cognitive and brain aging.  He is PI of 3 NIH grants that are following middle-aged twins into later life. These projects are the Vietnam Era Twin Study of Aging (VETSA).  The primary VETSA project examines cognition (emphasizing executive functions, memory, and processing speed), personality, psychosocial factors, psychopathology, and biomedical factors in over 1200 twins.  Over 500 of these twins have undergone 3D structural MRI and diffusion tensor imaging in the VETSA MRI Study, and the follow-up imaging includes additional functional MRI.

Anxiety and Stress Disorders

Dr. Murray Stein
Dr. Stein is Professor of Psychiatry and Family & Preventive Medicine at UCSD, where he directs the Anxiety & Traumatic Stress Disorders Program. Dr. Stein’s research interests include the epidemiology, neurobiology, and treatment of anxiety disorders especially social phobia, panic disorder, and posttraumatic stress disorder. His federally funded research includes studies of interventions for anxiety disorders in primary care, pharmacological approaches to treatment-resistant anxiety disorders, and functional neuroimaging research in anxiety and trauma-related disorders. He is Principal Investigator and Director of the Department of Defense-funded (2008-2013) INTRuST (INjury and TRaumatic STress) Consortium, which is studying treatments for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury.

The Anxiety & Traumatic Stress Disorders Research Program has a number of on-going research studies actively recruiting participants with and without anxiety disorders. For more information, please see the Program website at


Dr. Ralph-Axel Müller and Dr. Inna Fishman
The Brain Development Imaging Lab (BDIL) at San Diego State University investigates functional and anatomical brain development in neurotypical children and those with developmental disorders. Specific focus lies on the study of autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Our studies apply multimodal magnetic resonance imaging techniques (functional and functional connectivity MRI, anatomical volumetrics, diffusion tensor imaging and tractography, MR spectroscopy), as well as eye-tracking, behavioral, and neuropsychological measures. These techniques are used for investigating disturbances of functional brain organization in ASD during child and adolescent development, in particular with regard to local cortical differentiation and long distance connectivity within distributed networks. We further investigate associations between basic neurofunctional abnormalities and diagnostic and neuropsychological measures, as well as neurocognitive improvements following biological intervention (neurofeedback training). For further information, see lab website:

Bipolar Disorder

Dr. Lisa Eyler
Dr. Lisa Eyler is an Associate Professor in the UCSD Department of Psychiatry and a member of the Neuroimaging Core of the San Diego VA Mental Illness, Research and Education and Clinical Center (MIRECC). Her research focuses on the biological basis of neurocognitive functioning in aging, development, and mental illness. Previous studies have used functional imaging to explore the nature of cognitive deficits among older individuals with schizophrenia. Her current projects include examining the brain response correlates of exceptional aging and a study of brain functioning among older persons with bipolar disorder. In addition, she is a co-investigator on a twin MRI study of aging and a functional imaging project aimed at discovering risk factors for autism among very young children. For more information, please see the lab website at

Brain & Cognitive Development

Dr. Frank Haist
The Developmental NeuroImaging Laboratory (DNI Lab) focuses on understanding brain development and its links to social cognition and perception from childhood through adulthood and development of higher-order cognition. Located in the UC San Diego Center for Human Development, we study brain development using functional magnetic resonance imaging, or FMRI. Presently, we have two major projects ongoing. In the first, we are using face perception to study the brain architecture for social cognition. Faces are complex and dynamic stimuli representing the most important visual stimuli in our social environment. Adult face expertise is characterized by the rapid and accurate discrimination of individuals and the ability to extract extensive information about individuals from just a glance. Adult expertise to individuate faces does not reach mature levels until late adolescence. Our studies aim to track the development of the brain networks for face processing from school age children through adolescence and into adulthood. Our specific interest is to describe with precision the function of various face sensitive brain regions and how these regions are organized into coherent functional systems. This work is supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development. Our second research project aims to uncover the long-term consequences of premature birth on the brain systems supporting perception and higher-order cognition in school-age children. We anticipate that these studies will shed light on subtle cognitive changes that may be linked to academic performance in people born premature. Dr. Frank Haist heads the DNI Lab and is a faculty member of the UC San Diego Department of Psychiatry and Center for Human Development. or more information, please see the lab website at

Cognitive Control/Huntington’s Disease

Dr. Adam Aron
Dr. Aron's overarching concern is to better understand how people control themselves, especially how they stop, or prepare to stop, inappropriate response tendencies. To understand the brain architecture underlying such cognitive control, he performs studies with electrophysiology, magnetic resonance imaging, Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation and patient groups.

A recent project used functional and structural MRI to try to develop a biomarker to evaluate the integrity of frontal/basal-ganglia circuits in people carrying the Huntington’s disease gene. For more information, please see the lab website at


Dr. Scott Matthews
Dr. Matthews uses fMRI to study the neural substrates involved in mood disorders. He has published several articles that describe the involvement of the anterior cingulate cortex in cognitive processing and autonomic nervous system regulation. Dr. Matthews has received early academic career funding to implement these paradigms in patients with current major depressive disorder. His current work involves using cognitive and emotional tasks during fMRI to probe the neural circuitry involved in major depression and related mood disorders.

Eating Disorders

Eating Disorders Treatment and Research Program - UC San Diego
The University of California San Diego Eating Disorder Research and Treatment Program is conducting a study to understand the biological aspects of eating disorders. The study is using Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to compare brain scans of women who have recovered from anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa with women who have never had an eating disorder. The study may provide important information about changes in neural activation associated with eating disorders.For more information, please see the lab website at

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)

Dr. Sarah Mattson
Dr. Sarah Mattson, Professor of Psychology, SDSU, studies brain structure and function of children with heavy prenatal exposure to alcohol.

Prenatal alcohol exposure is considered a leading known cause of mental retardation and, in its most severe form, results in the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). Dr. Mattson's lab is investigating the significant neuropsychological and behavioral problems seen in children with FAS and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). Dr. Mattson and her collaborators use structural MRI, diffusion tensor imaging, and fMRI to understand the neural basis of cognitive and behavioral deficits in children and adolescents with FASD. Dr. Mattson’s research is ultimately aimed at specifying the neurobehavioral profile of FASD, and elucidating the neural underpinnings of observed deficits. Her research has highlighted specific areas of the brain that are affected by heavy prenatal alcohol exposure, specific neuropsychological consequences of this exposure, and the relationship between brain and behavioral changes.


Dr. Gregory Brown
Dr. Brown’s research uses computational modeling and brain imaging methods to investigate neuropsychiatric disorders. His laboratory makes use of functional, structural, and metabolic brain imaging to investigate the etiology and clinical course of neurological and neuropsychiatric disorders, including schizophrenia, HIV and Methamphetamine. The laboratory’s imaging studies focus on the development of brain imaging methods and their application to clinical problems.  Dr. Brown's research also focuses on the development of imaging protocols and tools for multi-site studies through his work with the Biomedical Informatics Research Network (BIRN, fBIRN) using both Functional and Structural Neuroimaging techniques.

Dr. Christine Fennema-Notestine
Dr. Fennema-Notestine’s research emphasizes development and validation of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) methods and the clinical application of these methods to neurodegenerative and psychiatric populations, including normal aging, Alzheimer’s Disease (AD), and HIV.  These studies allow more sensitive characterization of underlying neuropathogenesis and disease evolution and provide the basis for the future use of MRI biomarkers in evaluations of treatment efficacy. Dr. Fennema-Notestine currently directs multi-modal neuroimaging methods development and validation studies and multi-site initiatives to characterize HIV neuropathogenesis and white matter disease.

Language and Cognitive Neuroscience

Dr. Karen Emmorey
Dr. Karen Emmorey's research focuses on what sign languages can reveal about the nature of human language, cognition, and the brain. She studies the processes involved in how deaf people produce and comprehend sign language and how these processes are represented in the brain. She also investigates how experience with a signed language impacts nonlinguistic visual-spatial cognition, such as face processing, memory, and imagery. Her research interests include how language modality impacts spatial language (talking about space), the linguistic functions of eye gaze in sign language, and the nature of bimodal bilingualism (ASL-English bilinguals). Her investigations of the neural correlates of language and nonlinguistic cognitive functions draw on data from neuroimaging (fMRI and PET), and this work also focuses on macro neuroanatomical changes than can occur as a result of deafness or sign language experience. For more information, please see the lab website at

Dr. Tracy Love
Dr. Love's research focuses on the study of human cognitive processes, with a major emphasis on language processing in adults and children throughout the life span. Dr. Love has been using functional magnetic neuroimaging (fMRI) as a means of detailing the cerebral organization of language in both language impaired and unimpaired populations. Current research focuses on detailing the neural regions contributing to: the processing of various complex sentence types in hearing subjects; the temporal parameters of language processing; brain recruitment patterns based on standard methods used in language processing studies. In addition, Dr. Love has been utilizing perfusion imaging to explore the brain basis for a behaviorally demonstrated cognitive deficit in language impaired populations that is not revealed via standard neuroradiological (structural, magnetization prepared rapid gradient echo (MPRAGE)) imaging techniques. For more information, please see the lab website at


Dr. Larry Squire
Dr. Larry Squire’s research draws on the traditions of neuroscience, neuropsychology, and cognitive science. A part of his research involves studies of identified patients with amnesia. The analysis of such cases provides useful information about the structure and organization of normal memory. In addition, the use of the functional imaging systems at the Center for Functional MRI  facilitates the study of brain systems of human memory in normal subjects. This technology opens a new era of investigation into the brain systems of human memory. For more information, please see the lab website at

Memory Function in Health and Disease

Dr. James Brewer
Dr. Brewer's primary research interest is human memory. He uses functional and structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to study memory processes in volunteers with healthy memory and in patients with memory impairment, such as cases caused by Alzheimer's disease (AD). This research focuses on the medial temporal lobe (MTL) of the brain, which shows selective damage early in the course of AD. The overarching aim of the work is to better understand the memory function of distinct MTL substructures and the nature of the interaction between those substructures and other brain regions.

Dr. Brewer was one of the first researchers to show that functional MRI (fMRI) can identify distinct activations within the MTL. He and colleagues were the first to use the technique of event-related fMRI to identify brain activity that is directly related to the process of forming memories. Dr. Brewer’s laboratory collaborates with the Center for Functional MRI for obtaining high resolution functional imaging of subjects during tasks that involve the formation and retrieval of memory. As the principal investigator for the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI) at UC San Diego, Dr. Brewer also relies upon the ADNI-qualified scanners at the Center for obtaining advanced quantitative structural neuroimaging of elderly subjects with or without early signs of cognitive impairment. For more information, please see the lab website at

Pain and Headache

Dr. Albert Leung
Dr. Leung is a Professor of Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine at UC San Diego, School of Medicine. He is also the Director for the Center for Pain and Headache Research at the VA San Diego Healthcare System. His research focuses on pain management and alternative treatment options for patients suffering from mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) related headaches, and other chronic pain conditions. He founded the first Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) treatment clinic for treating intractable central pain in the VA system in 2010. His current research focuses on the clinical efficacy of non-invasive neuromodulation modalities including TMS in alleviating headache and pain in various intractable chronic pain conditions with correlated supraspinal functional and structural assessments.

For more information regarding his lab’s research or related study participation, please contact Valerie Metzger-Smith at: or 858-750-0274.

Parkinson's Disease

Dr. Deborah Harrington
Dr. Harrington's current research uses fMRI to study the neural basis for cognitive symptoms in Parkinson’s disease and the responsiveness of the brain to dopamine therapy. This research could promote more optimal, individualized treatments and drive the development of new medication treatments. For more information, please see

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Dr. Alan Simmons
Dr. Simmons is an avid imager who holds a Ph.D. in clinical psychology. His area of interest is in anxiety, specifically PTSD and anticipation. He collaborates with research in depression, pain, substance abuse, and other related disorders. He has grant funding looking at neural substrates of treatment in PTSD and multimodal imaging in PTSD and mTBI. He is co-chief of the functional imaging unit at the Center of Excellence in Stress and Mental Health at the VA, and assistant professor of Psychiatry at UCSD. For more information:


Dr. Gregory Brown
Dr. Brown’s research uses computational modeling and brain imaging methods to investigate neuropsychiatric disorders. His laboratory makes use of functional, structural, and metabolic brain imaging to investigate the etiology and clinical course of neurological and neuropsychiatric disorders, including schizophrenia, HIV and Methamphetamine. The laboratory’s imaging studies focus on the development of brain imaging methods and their application to clinical problems.  Dr. Brown's research also focuses on the development of imaging protocols and tools for multi-site studies through his work with the Biomedical Informatics Research Network (BIRN, fBIRN) using both Functional and Structural Neuroimaging techniques.

Dr. Kristin Cadenhead
Dr. Cadenhead's primary research focus is the study of vulnerability markers in schizophrenia.  As part of the NIH funded North American Prodrome Longitudinal Study (NAPLS), Dr. Cadenhead’s laboratory investigates genetic, neurocognitive and neurobiological vulnerability markers in the prodrome of schizophrenia and early psychosis with a special emphasis on factors that lead to conversion to psychosis. In addition to electrophysiological and neuropsychological assessment, the Cognitive Assessment and Risk Evaluation Program (CARE), is interested in investigating the neurobiological underpinnings of schizophrenia using neuroimaging techniques. Studies looking at the brain structure, function and neurochemistry are currently being conducted at the UCSD Center for Functional MRI.

Sleep Deprivation

Dr. Sean Drummond
Dr. Drummond's main program of research seeks to understand the impact of sleep and sleep deprivation on cognitive performance, brain function, as well as overall clinical symptoms and quality of life. He conducts both experimental studies and clinical studies.

Typically, his experimental studies manipulate sleep deprivation in healthy adults and measure the consequent cognitive and cerebral changes through behavioral and cognitive testing, functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI), and EEG. In addition to experimental studies in young healthy normal control subjects, his work also includes healthy older adults and clinical populations such as obstructive sleep apnea and insomnia.

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

Dr. Delano-Wood
Dr. Delano-Wood studies the relationship between brain structure, cognition, and clinical outcome across the aging spectrum and in the context of traumatic brain injury (TBI). Her major interest focuses on using diffusion tensor imaging to examine white matter changes that underlie neuropsychological disorders associated with neurotrauma and neurodegenerative diseases of late life including Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia. For more information, please see the lab website at (coming soon)

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We wish to acknowledge the generous financial support from the following organisations who have enabled this research. We wish also to thank the many research subjects who have generously given their time to partiticpate in these studies.

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