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Heather Richardson

Associate Professor

The overall goal of our research is to determine the neurobiological mechanisms by which early- (around the time of birth) and mid- (adolescence) developmental environment shapes the young brain to affect vulnerability to stress-related disorders such as anxiety/depression, impulsivity, and addiction. We use male and female rodent models to explore these questions, as our over-arching theme this research program is to understand the complex factors contributing to robust sex differences in mental health.

Current Research
In our current studies, we are exploring the underlying mechanisms driving the development of prefrontal-limbic circuits in the brain. The prefrontal cortex plays an executive role in the expression and control of emotional and goal-directed behaviors, and modulation of stress hormone responses. This is one of the last brain regions to mature, and we hypothesize that neural vulnerability of these circuits may explain why “risky, impulsive behaviors” such as binge alcohol or drug use are both common to teenagers and have such devastating and long-lasting consequences on psychiatric health. To test this hypothesis, we use differential challenges to perturb the normal developmental processes such as axonal myelination and behavioral, biochemical, and neurohistochemical techniques to assay brain function. Our research aims to identify the basic mechanisms driving neuronal development and function, and also identify targets and novel therapeutic approaches to combat diseases and disorders of the nervous system.

Learn more at www.richardsonlab-umass.com/

Academic Background

  • BA McDaniel College
  • MS Villanova University
  • PhD Michigan State University
  • Postdoctoral training: The Salk Institute
Van Bockstaele EJ, Morgan D, Richardson HN. New progress in understanding the molecular, cellular, and genetic basis of alcohol and poly-substance abuse. Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. (2016) Feb 4;65:225-7. doi: 10.1016/j.pnpbp.2015.11.006
Van Bockstaele EJ, Morgan D, Richardson HN. New progress in understanding the molecular, cellular, and genetic basis of alcohol and poly-substance abuse. Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. (2016) Feb 4;65:225-7. doi: 10.1016/j.pnpbp.2015.11.006
Itoga CA*, Roltsch Hellard EA*, Whitaker AM, Lu YL, A Schreiber, Baynes, B.S.1, Baiamonte BA, Richardson HN, Gilpin NW. Traumatic Stress Promotes Hyperalgesia via Corticotropin-Releasing Factor (CRF1) Signaling in Central Amygdala. Neuropsychopharmacology. (2016) Sep;41(10):2463-72. doi: 10.1038/npp.2016.44.
Edwards S, Little H, Richardson HN, Vendruscolo, L. Divergent Regulation of Distinct Glucocorticoid Systems in Alcohol Dependence. Alcohol. (2015) Dec;49(8):811-6. doi: 10.1016/j.alcohol.2015.04.004.
Saba LM, Flink SC, Vanderlinden LA, Israel Y, Tampier L, Colombo G, Kiianmaa K, Bell RL, Printz MP, Flodman P, Koob G, Richardson HN, Lombardo J, Hoffman PL, Tabakoff B. The sequenced rat brain transcriptome, its use in identifying networks predisposing alcohol consumption. (2015) FEBS J. 282(18): 3556-78. doi: 10.1111/febs.13358.
 
Contact Info

Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences
Neuroscience and Behavior Graduate Program
Tobin Hall 527
Amherst, MA 01003

(413) 545-0166
hrichardson@cns.umass.edu

www.richardsonlab-umass.com/