Dongju Seo, PhD

Assistant Professor

Research Departments & Organizations

Psychiatry: Connecticut Mental Health Center | Division of Addictions | IMB Lab | Psychology Section

Research Summary

My research is focused on understanding neural mechanisms underlying the link between stress and addiction and developing effective treatment strategies for stress and addiction related illnesses. I use multimodal neuroimaging combining functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), electrocardiogram (ECG), and hormone monitoring to examine neurobiological correlates of stress, autonomic nervous system, and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis regulation and their roles in addiction. I am interested in developing an interdisciplinary program of translational research to identify common and differential neural circuits involved in various types of addictive disorders (e.g, alcoholism and other substance abuse) with the application of advanced multimodal neuroimaging techniques. 

Extensive Research Description

Laboratory for Healthy Mind & Body (HMB)
Yale HMB lab (director: Dongju Seo, PhD) is a clinical neuroimaging laboratory for translational research of stress and addiction. Its mission is to understand the neurobiological mechanisms of and develop effective treatment for stress and addiction related disorders. To bridge the gap between neuroscience and clinical research, HMB conducts interdisciplinary research using novel approaches such as simultaneous collection of fMRI and peripheral measures including the autonomic nervous system (electrocardiogram (ECG)) and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. HMB has two sections of laboratory facilities located at large research centers: (1) clinical research section located at Yale Stress Center and (2) neuroimaging section located at Yale Magnetic Resonance Research Center. In addition to multimodal imaging, HMB utilizes intensive longitudinal methods including daily monitoring via smartphone technology to collect daily stress and addiction-related behaviors in a real-life setting.
Ongoing studies at HMB focus on the following four areas. 

1) Brain & Heart
    "Multimodal neuroimaging of stress, arousal, and alcoholism risk"
The goal of this project is to identify and develop neural makers of alcoholism risk and associated stress and autonomic nervous system dysregulation to predict future alcohol intake in heavy social drinkers. This project involves a multimodal neuroimaging technique combining functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and electrocardiogram (ECG).

2) Brain & Hormone
   "Dynamic neurobiological responses in alcoholism and early adversity"
This project examines neurobiological mechanisms of comorbid alcoholism and early adversity and their prospective prediction of alcohol relapse using multimodal neuroimaging that combines fMRI and HPA axis measures. The study utilizes a novel task involving exposure to stress, alcohol, and neutral cues in separate blocks, which allows simultaneous fMRI and stress hormone monitoring. After the MRI scan, participants are engaged in 8-week outpatient treatment and then prospectively followed for 90 days. We utilizes face-to-face follow-up interviews in conjunction with daily monitoring of stress and alcohol use through a smartphone app.      

3) Stress, Mood, and Addiction
This study aims to understand the neurobiology of comorbidity between depression and alcohol misuse using fMRI and HPA axis measures. The project examines brain and hormone responses to stress and alcohol cues and functional connectivity patterns that may contribute to mood and reward dysregulation in individuals with comorbid depression and alcohol misuse.  

4) Technology-Assisted Prevention
The HMB develops a technology-assisted prevention program for stress and addiction related illnesses (e.g., alcohol misuse) using a smartphone app. This project aims to develop an innovative prevention program involving computer and smartphone-app based intervention. Using the technology-assisted prevention program, the project is intended to reach out young adults and those who reside in various community settings to prevent addiction.

Clinical Trials

Conditions Study Title
Addictive Behaviors, Alcohol Addiction, Diseases of the Nervous System, Mental Health & Behavioral Research Neurobiology of Stress, Mood, and Comorbid Alcohol Use
Addictive Behaviors, Alcohol Addiction, Mental Health & Behavioral Research Multimodal Neuroimaging of Stress, Arousal, and Alcoholism Risk

Selected Publications

See list of PubMed publications

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