Behavioral and Cognitive Research in the Department of Neurology

The Behavioral and Cognitive Neurology Division offers an innovative research portfolio, which includes work through faculty labs, independent faculty research, and through the Vanderbilt Memory and Alzheimer’s Center. Faculty  and trainees are interested in reducing the public health burden of mild cognitive impairment, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and related disorders. These investigators have complimentary scientific expertise and are distinguished scientists in their respective fields. Since the entire division faculty is engaged in clinical research, trainees also have the unique opportunity to learn the skills of an academic physician. 

The Behavioral and Cognitive Neurology Division receives support from such institutions as the National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Defense, and various foundational and industry clinical trials.

Faculty members in the Behavioral and Cognitive Neurology Division are leading research in the following areas:  

Cognition and Movement Disorders

Dr. Daniel Claassen

The Cognition and Movement Lab research focus is to understand brain-behavior relationships in the context of the diagnosis and treatment of neurodegenerative diseases. Research addresses the biologic determinants of self-regulation and behavior, particularly in their relationship with Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease and other related diseases using state-of-the-art imaging methods. 

Dr. Claassen runs ASO and longitudinal observational studies for the treatment of Huntington’s Disease as well as other clinical trials that investigate treatments for Parkinson’s Disease and Progressive Supranuclear Palsy.

More on the Cognition and Movement Group

Network Localization of Neuropsychiatric Symptoms

Dr. Ryan Darby

The Darby lab investigates the neural mechanisms underlying the most complex human behaviors at the interface of neurology, psychiatry, and philosophy. Impairment in belief, morality, and free will perception are common in neurological patients, but the neuroanatomy or cognitive processes associated with these impairments remain unknown.  The lab works to identify the complex network of brain regions that affect such behavior. 

More on the Darby lab

Vascular Health and Alzheimer’s Disease

Dr. Angela Jefferson

Dr. Jefferson and her team are working to advance the understanding of risk factors, early diagnostic markers, prevention and treatment methods for memory loss and cognitive aging with an emphasis on vascular health and Alzheimer’s disease.

More on the relationship between heart disease and Alzheimer’s

Early Detection of Alzheimer’s disease

Dr. Katherine Gifford

Dr. Gifford’s research focuses on identifying neuropsychological and self-report markers that underlie the earliest manifestations of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. Her work has contributed to validating cost-effective and innovative methods to enhance early detection and diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.

More on early detection

Resilience in Alzheimer’s disease

Dr. Timothy Hohman

Dr. Hohman’s programmatic research focuses on understanding how certain individuals are able to accumulate Alzheimer’s disease (AD) neuropathology without showing clinical symptoms of the disease (resilience). His team also integrates these diverse data types into a precision medicine approach, focusing on characterizing the best predictors of risk and resilience given an individual’s age, sex, genetic, and neuropathological context. Through transdisciplinary collaboration, Dr. Hohman's team seeks to facilitate a more rapid move from genomic discovery to therapeutic development.

More on the resilience initiative

Clinical Trials in Alzheimer’s and related disorders

Dr. Lealani Mae Acosta

Clinical trials seek to improve outcomes and reverse the course of Alzheimer’s disease, frontotemporal lobar degeneration, Lewy body disease, and other neurodegenerative diseases. These conditions are a growing public health concern particularly as the population ages. This initiative collaborates with other national institutions to discover treatments for these diseases.

More on the clinical trials initiative

Frontotemporal Dementia

Dr. Ryan Darby

Vanderbilt offers a clinic dedicated to patients experiencing Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD), which is one of the few such clinics in the country. The clinic offers regular clinical trials addressing some of the symptoms of FTD. 

More on FTD clinical trials

Early behavioral changes in Huntington disease

Dr. Katherine McDonell

Dr. McDonell's current research focuses on identifying the earliest cognitive and behavioral changes in youth and young adults at risk for Huntington disease, with a focus on risky and impulsive behaviors. Dr. McDonell and her team are working to develop new screening methods to detect these behaviors and using neuroimaging to identify underlying brain changes that may lead to them.

More on the McDonell lab

Glymphatics and Cognition

Dr. Daniel Claassen
Dr. Ciaran Considine

This multi-disciplinary research group focuses on new multi-modal brain imaging techniques to better understand the link between clearance of brain waste and the development of neurodegenerative disease.

More on Glymphatics and Cognition