Jennifer Blackford, PhD

Jennifer Blackford, PhDJennifer Blackford, PhD

Department Director, MMI Research
Hattie B. Munroe Professor of Psychiatry and Psychology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center
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The Munroe-Meyer Institute officially welcomes Dr. Blackford on April 1, 2021.

 

 


Professional Summary

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.

Education

Teaching

brain icon  Blackford Lab

Research Interests and Projects

Publications on PubMed

Selected Publications (within the last 5 years)

Professional Affiliations

Selected Honors and Awards


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