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'Our lab will push the boundaries'

Mihaela Iordanova, one of four new Canada Research Chairs, tackles the neurobiology of fear

Mihaela Iordanova, an assistant professor in Concordia's Department of Psychology, is the new Canada Research Chair in Behavioural Neuroscience. Her lab — which studies fear, reward and memory — is a Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) project with a total value of approximately $375,000 (including cash contributions from Québec's Ministère de l'Éducation et de l'Enseignement supérieur and from Concordia, and in-kind contributions from equipment suppliers).

What is the goal of your research?

Mihaela Iordanova: The research in my lab focuses on understanding the behavioural and neural mechanisms that guide learning about the world around us. We seek to understand what neural circuits are involved in how we come to expect rewarding or fearful events, as well as how we update these expectations in our dynamic environments.

Updated memories can be fickle and subject to disruption, so we aim to develop ways to strengthen such recent memories. Sometimes, the stimuli that we base our expectations on are complex mnemonic events, which combine cues from diverse modalities such as a particular place or time. Our work also seeks to understand the nature of such complex memories.

What do you hope will be the impact on society and your field of study?

MI: Our work examines both fear and reward, and we hope to integrate and better understand the interaction between these opposing motivational states.

We seek to uncover which circuits, as opposed to individual brain areas, process reward and fear, as well as provide a novel understanding of their interaction behaviourally and neutrally, something that has remained largely elusive but has attracted much interest in recent times.

Indeed, exaggeration in the processing of rewarding events translates to similar exaggerated processing of aversive events, and this has been linked to addiction.

The paradigms we use in our work represent animal models of psychopathologies such as addiction, obesity and anxiety. Examining the integration of fear and reward will provide a novel take on the psychological and neural mechanisms of these conditions. Ultimately, we hope to establish behavioural paradigms, which can inform and lead to the development of novel treatments for addiction, obesity and anxiety.

Now that you've won a Canada Research Chair (CRC), what next steps do you hope to take? 

MI: The CRC will allow the lab to continue our research on fear and reward, but will also provide us with a way to delve into these questions using advanced optogenetic, pharamacogenetic and real-time neural recording techniques.

This provides a means to elucidate the neural mechanisms of reward and fear from the cell to the circuit level. Our lab will push the boundaries of the neurobiology of fear and reward expectation, as well as memory formation by integrating theoretical stipulations of learning with neural techniques that prod brain function in real time and examine how alterations in brain function influence information processing.

Find out more about the Department of Psychology.



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