by Carrie Bearden, Ph.D.,
Presented by the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation in partnership with Sage Hill School

Carrie Bearden, Ph.D.

2003/2005 NARSAD Young Investigator Grantee
Associate Professor, Departments of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences and Psychology,
Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior,
University of Califonia, Los Angeles 

I was very pleased to read Dr. Adrian Preda’s recent blog posting focused on ‘exercising the brain’. I have become increasingly excited about the potential for aerobic exercise to boost neuroplasticity (i.e., the ability of the nervous system to respond to stimuli by reorganizing its structure, function and connections), and thus improve our capacity to learn. One study that I find particularly exciting is this one by Aberg and colleagues:  a Swedish population cohort study of over 1 million men, in which not only was cardiovascular fitness positively associated with intelligence at age 18, but cardiovascular fitness changes between age 15 and 18 years predicted cognitive performance at age 18.  This suggests that making these lifestyle changes can have positive and beneficial lasting effects for cognitive functioning.  I have been diving into this literature full-force as I am preparing a new intervention grant for our clinical research program for adolescents suffering from schizophrenia. I am hopeful this intervention may have the potential to really improve the lives of these teens.

The more we study it, the more it becomes clear that the adult brain is incredibly plastic. While neurogenesis is a special form of neuroplasticity, there are other mechanisms of synaptic plasticity that are less well studied, In particular, I am interested in myelination – the white matter fiber tracts in the brain – as a mechanism for synaptic plasticity (this is a great review by Fields, if you are interested!). Recently, several studies have shown large-scale changes in structural and functional connectivity in the brain in a period of just a few weeks as a function of learning a new skill, like juggling or learning to play golf. These findings of learning-related functional brain plasticity, occurring throughout the lifespan, are incredibly exciting.

There are also periods of development- sensitive periods – like the teenage years, in which the brain is particularly dynamic. I spoke about this last Thursday night at the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation Sage Hill Event: The Teenage Mind: What Every Parent Needs to Know . Adolescence is also a period of significant vulnerability for the development of mood disorder, substance abuse, and other psychopathology. How can we harness this increased neuroplasticity to achieve lasting clinical change? What are some lifestyle interventions that might actually make a difference?  These are all key issues which I think we are making important strides toward addressing, but clearly there is a lot more work to be done. At the very least, the rising tide of evidence for brain plasticity offers promise for the possibility of changing and rewiring the brain.


‘Taking Strides Against Mental Illness’ Lecture
Using Infant Brain Activity to Better Understand Bipolar Disorder
Katrina C. Johnson, Ph.D.
Emory University

Katrina C. Johnson, Ph.D

NARSAD Young Investigator Grantee Katrina C. Johnson, Ph.D. presented the ‘Taking Strides Against Mental Illness’ Lecture in October at the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation Mental Health Research Symposium in New York City. In the lecture, Dr. Johnson talks about her research at Emory University, where she researches infant brain activity to better understand bipolar disorder. Dr. Johnson studies infant emotion regulation strategies – emotional responses that may or may not fall within the conventionally accepted range of emotive response. She then seeks to identify how these responses may relate to bipolar disorder, with the goal of gaining more understanding of the underlying brain mechanisms involved in bipolar disorder for people of all ages.

About the ‘Taking Strides Against Mental Illness’ Lecture:

Harryet and Stuart Ehrlich are determined to help bring about a future in which people like their daughter Rebecca Ehrlich  do not spend a lifetime struggling with the devastating symptoms of bipolar disorder. Each year, the Ehrlichs lead a benefit walk called ‘Taking Strides Against Mental Illness’. The proceeds go to the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation. They also participate in the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation Research Partners Program and the Lecture Sponsor Program. The ‘Taking Strides Against Mental Illness’ Lecture’ is presented annually by a NARSAD Grantee.

Benita Shobe

by Benita Shobe
President & CEO, Brain & Behavior Research Foundation

2011 was an impressive year of progress as NARSAD Grant-funded discoveries spanned brain and behavior disorders – including schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety disorders including OCD and PTSD and autism. Our Scientific Council selects the most promising ideas to fund each year, across research disciplines, institutions and communities. In the sampling of work presented below, you will discover proven next generation therapies, innovative  early intervention techniques and promise for improved diagnostic tools, groundbreaking basic research to further  our understanding of how the brain functions and can malfunction, and the continued refinement of new technologies to significantly advance our progress.

Please click on our orange neuron logo below and explore our interactive 2011 Research Highlights page. As always, thank you for joining in our shared commitment to alleviate the suffering caused by mental illness. We will continue to share our progress with you – check for news updates weekly on our web site front page – throughout this New Year that is already proving very productive!


Me (Rob) and my kids Hannah, Daniel and Rachel

By Rob Laitman
Runner, Father, Donor – Brain & Behavior Research Foundation

Five years ago my son Daniel was diagnosed with schizophrenia and our lives were turned upside down. He was just starting his sophomore year of high school when he was diagnosed and was in and out of hospital day programs for much of that year. Over the next 2 years we would see many doctors and Daniel would be on many different medications. While he is now on a medical regimen that he is doing well on, and while he finished high school on time in a great program and is now in community college, we all long for the day when his disease will be cured, not just kept under control. He still has symptoms most days and has learned to live with them, but we would love for him to be free of “the voices”.

Last January, Daniel, Daniel’s sister Hannah, their cousin Joey, and myself ran the Disney World Half-Marathon together and raised almost $15,000 for the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation.  That was just the beginning! On January 7,2012, we did it again.  We participated again in the Disney Half Marathon, and I ran the full marathon the next day. The weekend was great! Hannah, Daniel, Rachel and I finished the half marathon in about 2 hrs 37 minutes…..Rachel has not run for almost a year, but she finished! I completed the full marathon in 3 hours and 19 minutes, which is faster than I planned – I felt great!

We all know someone with a mental illness and we can all be part of the search to find better treatments and cures for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety and eating disorders and the many other types of mental illness that are out there. I hope they never affect you, but chances are that one of them will touch you or someone you love. Help us to raise funds for research and you be part of the cure!

We aren’t finished! There are more marathons this year. Would you like to join us? Whether or not you are a runner, I would like to invite you to support Team Daniel and TeamUp!  Please share this blog link with family and friends, make a donation, or even better, join us in a run! (See our schedule below.) I am really hoping to recruit more Team members. What an inspiration it would be to see a sea of Team Daniel / BBRF tee shirts running in the marathon!

I personally offer to support runners up to $1000 if they raise at least $5000 for the Foundation.  I will do this up to 10 runners. 

For more information about joining Team Daniel please email my wife Ann or myself: Ann Laitman at or Robert Laitman at

Team Daniel marathons in support of Brain & Behavior Research Foundation:
•    Boston Marathon, April 2012
•    New Jersey Marathon, May 2012
•    New York Marathon, November 2012

We are in the lottery for…
•    Chicago, Illinois
•    St. George, Utah

Please enjoy this video “Grateful” –  written and performed by my daughter Rachel Laitman:

By Dolores Emory
Donor, Brain & Behavior Research Foundation 

Me (Dolores) and my son Todd

This is a true story about what happened to a family when mental illness struck one of its children.

My son Todd Christopher O’Connell was born April 18, 1965. It was an Easter Sunday. Everyone said “Todd is going to be special because he was born on Easter Sunday.” And special he was. He was gifted and talented. He was an honor student and showed such promising potential in art, poetry and early language skills. He was reading at three years old. Everyone was amazed at his precociousness.

Unfortunately, a few weeks after his 18th birthday, Todd became mentally ill. For the next 26 years he was in and out of mental institutions and treatment programs. He was a complicated mixture of schizophrenia and bipolar, with severe paranoia. Todd took lots of medicines, but nothing ever seemed to work. Todd often referred to himself as a tortured soul.

Now his suffering is over. He made a deliberate choice not to go on. Todd is at peace.

I will miss my son every day, as will his brother Brett. He was our soldier. He marched proudly with a debilitating disease until he could march no more.

None of us have surfaced “the same.” There has been growth and enlightenment, along with regression and submission. There have been so many conflicts of emotion amongst us that it is difficult to name them all.

I tell our story, however, because every day other people are beginning their journey. My heart aches for them and my prayers are with them. I want these mothers and fathers to know that they are not alone. There are others that share their pain, and understand their anger.

I believe the answer is in science. The Brain & Behavior Research Foundation makes it possible for scientific research to be done and for new treatments to be created, so that people like my son Todd will not have to suffer the despair and anguish of mental illness.

I want people to know in the depths of despair and hopelessness, a strength and life can reinvent itself. You can ride it out. Is that advice? I wouldn’t dare. I took the hard road, the long road, and I only want to say when you feel that you can’t go on, you can, because you will. And then you won’t be “you,” you will become a different “you,” a new “you.” And then you will join a different world, the world of “seeing, caring, and knowing,” not a world you would have chosen, but a world that has chosen you. Through this you’ll find an inner strength and wisdom that can only come from having been there.

My Todd

I’m So Proud of my Todd
by Dolores Emory

I’m so proud of my Todd
He is a winner with a loser disease
He recognizes and works hard with doctors
On regulating his meds.

Everyone at the board and care love him.
He’s generous, kind, thoughtful and happy.

He helps others.
He has not lost his memory and he cares about the young people that come and go from the
board and care. He knows everyone’s medicines and diagnosis, including his own.
He has found the strength to give up the street drugs.
It was hard.
I ought to know.

Now when we go to lunch on Saturdays we enjoy each other,
we talk rationally
we talk lovingly about the past.

It’s amazing how the right doctor and the right board and care can take away a lot of the worry and pain.

I’m so proud of my Todd.
Each day he faces the day with new hope,
new promise.
He follows the cures with interest.

He is at peace at Casa with Barbara.
And that gives me peace.
It has been a long journey and there are still times that I resent it.
If Todd feels that way he never mentions it,
I’m so very proud of him.

At this point I might ask God for the things to make his life complete.

                        The first is that his father would visit and embrace him.

            The other is that the Rolling Stones would stop by.

After all I’ve purchased their tapes over and over and over.
I believe I have purchased Beggars’ Banquet 100 times alone.
In the days when Todd kept giving them away, and trading them.

Those days are over. And I’m so very, very proud of my son.



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