Stress Regulation, Working Memory, and Cognitive Disorganization In Adolescence

Research project


Adolescence is a peak time for the emergence of the core symptoms of psychopathology. Cognitive disorganization (CD) is a key symptom dimension of psychosis that emerges most commonly in adolescence, predicts the onset and severity of psychotic disorders, and transcends DSM diagnostic categories. Although little is known about the biological correlates of CD, adolescents experiencing disorganization have significant deficits in working memory capacity (WMC) and arousal/stress regulation (ASR). These two behavioral constructs show dramatic maturational changes during adolescence, which are necessary for the transition to higher-level cognition, affect regulation and psychosocial adaptation. Despite the strong epidemiologic evidence for the role of stress in the etiology of psychosis, and the centrality of working memory impairments in psychosis, little is known about their contribution to CD in adolescence. Examining the neural and physiological systems associated with working memory and stress regulation in adolescence, and their contribution to CD severity, offers a critical step in elucidating the pathophysiological mechanisms that contribute to the onset of psychosis. This approach is consistent with the RDoC framework, which encourages using converging measurements to study the underlying neurobiology of domains (Cognitive System and Arousal Regulation in this proposal), and constructs (working memory capacity and stress regulation) that represent fundamental behaviors expressed by individuals with clinical risk symptoms for psychosis.
We will use a multimodal approach integrating functional neuroimaging, electrophysiological, and behavioral measures to ascertain converging measures of working memory and arousal/stress regulation constructs across neural, physiological, and behavioral units, and to characterize the contributions of atypical ASR and impaired WMC in the severity of CD symptoms. In Aim 1, we will evaluate the contributions of working memory impairments and atypical arousal/stress regulation in 180 adolescents (ages 9-16) to the severity of CD symptom. In AIM 2 we will model the relationship between WM and ASR constructs and their impact on CD severity. In AIM 3, we will examine the longitudinal trajectory of CD symptom severity, behavioral and electrophysiological measures of WM and ASR, and their associations with baseline neural, behavioral, and physiological measures acquired in AIMs 1 and 2. For each aim, we will explore the modulatory role of sex differences and pubertal maturation on stress-regulation and working memory during adolescence, and their influence in determining functional outcomes.
IMPACT: Understanding the neural and physiological systems associated with working memory capacity and stress regulation in adolescence, and their contribution to CD severity, is a crucial step for elucidating the core pathophysiological mechanisms that promote the emergence and exacerbation of psychosis.
Effective start/end date7/20/155/31/20


  • NIH National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)


Short-Term Memory
Psychotic Disorders
Neurobehavioral Manifestations
Functional Neuroimaging
Sex Characteristics