Nierenberg Lab

The Nierenberg Lab uses multiple MRI methods to better understand brain changes associated with recovery from severe substance use disorders to inform improved treatment. A secondary focus is using MRI to explore early detection of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) in collaboration with the Geriatric Psychiatry Research Program.


Substance abuse and addictive disorders are brain illnesses affecting a large segment of the population. Recovery likely requires changes in altered specific brain circuits that support restored normative behavior. The Nierenberg Lab employs methods that examine brain connectivity and other aspects of brain structure to understand the maladaptive changes in brain circuitry in substance use disorders as well as the changes underlying positive outcomes from substance abuse treatment. To date, the lab has studied stimulant use disorders; however, the research seeks to identify the common aspects of all addictive disorders that may be reversible as well as the brain changes more difficult to change, which may be related to high rates of treatment failure and relapse. The goals of the research are to inform development of animal models for evaluating new potential treatments (such as brain stimulation) and to improve existing behavioral and pharmacological approaches to treatments.

A second area of interest involves studies of biological markers (in cerebrospinal fluid and plasma) together with MRI to understand the basis of cognitive decline in disorders of the aging (Alzheimer’s disease and late-onset major depression). These studies are in collaboration with Dr. Nunzio Pomara and the Geriatric Psychiatry research department, which runs the Memory Education and Research Initiative (MERI), a program that offers memory and cognitive evaluations at no cost to local residents with memory complaints. These studies interface with both pre-clinical studies in the Center for Dementia Research and clinical trials research within the Geriatric Psychiatry department. The goal of these studies is to identify predictors of pathological cognitive decline in the hope that people with AD can be identified and treated before debilitating symptoms develop.

Current Investigations

Cross-sectional and longitudinal studies of brain recovery following abstinence from cocaine
White matter changes in methamphetamine abuse
MRI and MRSI of subjects with apoE genotype
Plasma and CSF abeta peptides in late-onset major depression
Effects of Maintenance Treatment with Olanzapine vs. Placebo on Brain Structure