Jennifer Blackford, PhD
Department Director, MMI Research
Hattie B. Munroe Professor of Psychiatry and Psychology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center
The Munroe-Meyer Institute officially welcomes Dr. Blackford on April 1, 2021.
Jennifer Blackford, PhD is the Director of Research of the Munroe-Meyer Institute and Hattie B. Munroe Professor of Psychiatry and Psychology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Dr. Blackford obtained her PhD in Developmental Psychology with minors in quantitative psychology and developmental disabilities from Vanderbilt University. She obtained post-doctoral training in neuroimaging and genetics, supported by a National Institute of Mental Health Mentored Career Development Award (K01).
Dr. Blackford's research program aims to identify and characterize the neurobiological basis of anxiety across the lifespan and the role of anxiety neurocircuitry in people with psychiatric disorders including PTSD, alcohol use disorders, and schizophrenia. The long term goal of her research program is to use these discoveries to develop new prevention strategies for individuals for children at high-risk for developing anxiety disorders and new treatments for individuals suffering with these disorders. Dr. Blackford’s research has been funded by multiple federal agencies including the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse, and the Department of Veterans Affairs.
One of Dr. Blackford’s most significant contributions to science has been her studies of the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST) in humans. Rodent models of both anxiety and addiction revealed a critical role for the BNST. However, translation to humans was incredibly challenging because the BNST is very small and difficult to study with standard neuroimaging methods. Dr. Blackford and her lab were the first to develop a method for identifying the structural boundaries of the BNST using a novel scanner sequence and ultra-high field scanner, producing a standardized BNST mask. Using this novel BNST mask, they created the first structural and functional connectivity mapping in humans. This seminal study work has been replicated multiple times and laid the groundwork for significant growth in this area of research. Dr. Blackford has continued with her pioneering work in this area and is currently studying BNST function in pediatric anxiety, PTSD, alcohol use disorders, and schizophrenia.
Dr. Blackford has also made significant contributions to our understanding of how individual differences in neurobiology contribute to risk for developing anxiety. Anxiety disorders are highly prevalent and cause a long course of suffering, making them prime targets for prevention efforts. Identifying the neural basis of risk for anxiety disorders in children can help guide targeted prevention programs. Dr. Blackford has focused on identifying the neural basis of inhibited temperament, behavioral phenotype that is associated with substantially increased risk for anxiety disorders. Her research has led to several key discoveries in this field including (1) inhibited temperament is characterized by a failure to habituate in the amygdala & hippocampus, not merely amygdala hyperactivity as previously through; (2) inhibited adults have alterations in a functional network of prefrontal cortical regions and differences in this network are associated with risk or resilience; (3) inhibited adults show both hyper-connectivity and hypo-connectivity in distinct intrinsic networks; and (4) inhibited children show deficits in prefrontal cortical engagement during anticipatory processing. Most recently, Dr. Blackford has determined that inhibited temperament influences symptom profiles in both mood and psychotic disorders.
- PhD, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN, 1998
- MS, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN 1994
- BS, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL 1990
- Annual lectures on fear and anxiety neurocircuitry, stress biology, anxiety disorders, child development, temperament/personality, neuroanatomy, and statistics.
- Master Science Teacher, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, 2015-2018
- Co-Course Director, Brain, Behavior and Movement Course, Foundations in Medical Knowledge, 1st Year Medical Students, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, 2014-2017
- Course Director, Biomedical Curriculum Didactics, Psychiatry Residency, Vanderbilt University 2013-2015
- Course Director, Case Based Learning, Psychiatry Residency, Vanderbilt University 2013-2015
- Course Director, Statistics and Methodology Series, Vanderbilt Kennedy Center, 2005-2008
Research Interests and Projects
- Neurobiology of childhood anxiety
- Neurobiological mechanisms underlying inhibited temperament
- Role of the BNST and amygdala in post-traumatic stress disorder
- Role of the BNST circuit in early abstinence from alcohol
- Anxiety neurocircuitry in schizophrenia
Selected Publications (within the last 5 years)
- Allen KB, Benningfield M, Blackford JU. Childhood Anxiety-If We Know So Much, Why Are We Doing So Little? JAMA Psychiatry. 2020 Sep 1;77(9):887-888.
- Clauss JA, Avery SN, Benningfield MM, Blackford JU. Social anxiety is associated with BNST response to unpredictability. Depression and Anxiety. 2019 Aug;36(8):666-675.
- Feola B, Armstrong K, Flook EA, Woodward ND, Heckers S, Blackford JU. Evidence for inhibited temperament as a transdiagnostic factor across mood and psychotic disorders. Journal of Affective Disorders. 2020 Sep 1;274:995-1003.
- Flook EA, Luchsinger JR, Silveri MM, Winder DG, Benningfield MM, Blackford JU. Anxiety during abstinence from alcohol: A systematic review of rodent and human evidence for the anterior insula's role in the abstinence network. Addiction Biology 2020 Jan 28:e12861.
- Blackford JU. Leveraging Statistical Methods to Improve Validity and Reproducibility of Research Findings. JAMA Psychiatry. 2017 Feb 1;74(2):119-120.
- Avery SN, Clauss JA, Blackford JU. The Human BNST: Functional Role in Anxiety and Addiction. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2016 Jan;41(1):126-41.
- Clauss JA, Avery SN, Blackford JU. The nature of individual differences in inhibited temperament and risk for psychiatric disease: A review and meta-analysis. Prog Neurobiol. 2015 Apr;127-128:23-45.
- American College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ACNP)
- Society of Biological Psychiatry (SOBP)
Selected Honors and Awards
- American College of Neuropsychopharmacology Member (2019)
- Academy for Excellence in Education, elected member, Vanderbilt University (2015)
- Clinical Teacher Award, Department of Psychiatry, Vanderbilt University (2014)
- Innovation Award, Vanderbilt Kennedy Center (2001)
- Julius Seeman Award (presented by the faculty to the student who best exemplifies the ideals of scholastic, personal, and professional achievement). Department of Psychology and Human Development, Vanderbilt University (1994, 1996)
- Phi Beta Kappa (1990)
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