Medical & Clinical Psychology: The Grunberg Research Lab

Current Lab Projects

Animal Studies

Neurobehavioral Phenotyping of Male and Female Rats in Response to Blast Overpressure (BOP), High Intensity Focused Ultrasound (HIFU), and Stress
Funding Source: Center for Neuroscience and Regenerative Medicine

The purpose of this study is to examine neurobehavioral phenotyping of male and female rats exposed to blast overpressure with or without exposure to additional acute psychological distress. Utilizing young adult Sprague Dawley rats, the behavior (to include general health, depression-related behaviors, anxiety-related behaviors, learning, processing), neurochemistry (to include peripheral stress hormones and immune markers), and neurobiology (to include different brain regions and catecholamines and their metabolites) of the animal subjects is assessed in order to examine the moderating effects of acute distress, as well as the appropriateness of the BOP model in modeling mild traumatic brain injury. This study has also evaluated the efficacy of novel neurobehavioral assessments and the Warrior Stress Paradigm designed by the Grunberg lab. Biological and behavioral responses to acute distress between sexes are of particular interest in this study. There are two sub-studies of the main project:

HIFU: The main purpose of this sub-study is to examine the utility of the HIFU injury in modeling traumatic brain injury in rats.

Electrophysiology: The main purpose of this experiment was to assess the electrophysiological function in rats exposed to a blast induced mild TBI. Analysis of electrophysiology within the brain tissue allows investigators to assess the impact of traumatic brain injury on neuronal function and plasticity and to determine if the electrophysiology observed correlates to collected behavior.

Behavior, emotions, anxiety, trauma, and nicotine study
Funding Source: Society for Nicotine and Tobacco, Uniformed Services University

The purpose of this study is to examine behavioral and biological effects of nicotine on male and female rats under stressful conditions. Utilizing young adult Sprague Dawley rats, the behavior (to include general health, depression-related and anxiety-related behaviors), neurochemistry (to include peripheral stress hormones), and neurobiology (to include different brain regions and catecholamines and their metabolites) of the animal subjects is assessed in order to examine the effects nicotine (via osmotic minipumps) in animals experiencing acute distress.

Human Studies

Service Dog Training Program and Resilience: Evaluation of PTSD Treatment in Wounded Warriors

Background: Wounded Warriors face functional impairment from psychological conditions, including Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Interactions with service dogs may improve social interaction, decrease perceived stress, and decrease symptoms of PTSD. However, little empirical research has evaluated this possible, adjunctive therapy.

Objectives: To evaluate medical, psychological, social, and biological effects of service dog training on patients at Walter Reed and Fort Belvoir Hospitals. The objectives are to evaluate: service dog training as an adjunctive treatment for PTSD; a resilience measure; and relationships between PTSD, resilience, functioning, and service dog training. We hypothesize that service dog training will decrease PTSD symptomatology and that biomarkers of stress, self-reported stress, functional impairment, and social connections will be associated with resilience.

Methods: Soldiers from the Warrior Transition Brigade either will receive standard care or will participate in a service dog training program in addition to standard care. Soldiers will answer questions: before the study; several times during the study; and post treatment. Questions will address: resilience, PTSD symptoms, functioning (biomedical, social, and psychological).

Evaluation of military medical leadership performed in Field Training Exercises

The Bushmaster Simulation Field Exercise is an important part of the education and training of USU medical students. MS-IV students participate in Bushmaster during their fourth year to apply medical and military medical training (including leadership) in a realistic five-day field setting. Bushmaster also provides an opportunity for USU faculty and adjunct faculty to teach "in the field." The Bushmaster Research Activities Group (BRAG) was recently formed as a collaboration among members of the Military & Emergency Medicine Department and the Grunberg Laboratory group to conduct systematic program evaluation of the Bushmaster exercise, to examine student performance in this field setting, and to determine whether field setting performance relates to past experiences, individual demographics, and academic performance.

Objectives: To compare student performance in military medical leadership roles during the Bushmaster field exercise with: individual demographics (including prior service experience; branch of service; time in service); pre-clinical academic performance; and clinical academic performance. The goal of this work is to provide information that may help to enhance military medical leadership training at USU.

Consortium for Health and Military Performance (CHAMP) & Human Performance Resource Center (HPRC)
Collaboration with CHAMP & HPRC

We are working with CHAMP and HPRC to help better integrate psychological metrics and resources into the health and performance of military members, their families, and personnel in the field helping these individuals. We are involved in multiple projects with these groups that include data analyses, updating webpages with resources, and helping determine the best psychological metrics to optimize human performance among these groups.


Below is a partial list of on-going collaborations.

Epigenetic Factors and Cortical Map Plasticity in the Mouse Model of Traumatic Brain Injury
Collaboration with Dr. Zygmunt Galdzicki (APG)
Funding Source: Center for Neuroscience and Regenerative Medicine
  • The purpose of this study is to identify possible effects of single and multiple traumatic brain injuries on the central nervous system using a mouse model of injury with special emphasis on the cellular level.
Mechanisms of Central Nervous System affected in mouse models in response to Tungsten Exposures Used in Explosive Materials
Collaboration with Dr. Zygmunt Galdzicki (APG)
Funding Source: Defense Medical Research and Development Program (DMRDP)
  • Within the literature there is a dearth of information concerning the biological effects of tungsten alloys (containing tungsten, nickel, and cobalt) that are commonly used in armor penetrating munitions. The purpose of this study is to identify the possible effects of tungsten exposure on the central nervous system using a mouse model.
Recovery from Mild and Severe Traumatic Brain Injury
Collaboration with Dr. Christine Kasper (GSN) and Dr. Denes Agoston (APG)
Funding Source: Veterans Administration (VA)
  • The purpose of this study is to examine the effect of a pharmacological anti-inflammatory treatment, environmental enrichment, and a combination of the two on memory and performance improvement following exposure to a blast traumatic brain injury in male rats.
Role of MicroRNAs in Mild Traumatic Injury and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: Identification of Biomarkers and Therapeutic Targets in Mice
Collaboration with Dr. Radha K Maheshwari (PAT) and Dr. Anuj Sharma (PAT)
Funding Source: Defense Medical Research and Development Program (DMRDP)
  • The purpose of this study is to determine early serum based biomarkers to detect mild traumatic brain injury, specifically the expression pattern of microRNAs in the blood of animals (mice) that have sustained a mild traumatic brain injury and relate these findings to behavioral data.
Linolenic Acid: An Omega 3 Fatty Acid That Protects Against Soman-Induced Neuropathology in Sprague-Dawley Rats
Collaboration with Dr. Ann Marini (NEU)
Funding Source: Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA)
  • Nerve agents continue to be a threat to the United States military and civilian populations. Exposure to a nerve agent can cause brain hyperactivity, seizures, and death. This study examines the protective nature of linolenic acid (an omega-3 fatty acid found in commercially available canola oil) against the neurotoxic properties of a nerve agent, soman, using an animal model of adult male Sprague-Dawley rats.
Perinatal Nicotine, Carbon Monoxide & Neurodevelopment in mice
Collaboration with Dr. Timothy O'Neill (PED)
Funding Source: Flight Attendants Medical Research Institute
  • The purpose of this study is to examine the effects of perinatal exposure to primary and secondary tobacco smoke on brain development through the use of an animal model. Specifically, this experiment examines the impact of chronic perinatal exposure to nicotine and carbon monoxide on the development of the neocortex.
Mitochondrial Damage: A Diagnostic and Metabolic Approach in Traumatic Brain Injury and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (rats)
Collaboration with Dr. Pushpa Sharma (ANE)
Funding Source: Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)
  • The purpose of this study is to examine the relationship between post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, and injured neurons, specifically through synergetic metabolic pathways. This study seeks to build on the foundation of previous work that emphasizes the importance of identifying mitochondrial dysfunction, deficient cellular energy metabolism, and increased neuronal cell death commonly observed in humans with PTSD and TBI. This study examines the efficacy of using pyruvate, a metabolic substrate, as a potential pharmacotherapy for TBI and PTSD.

Studies Being Planned

We currently are planning to expand our thematic work regarding non-pharmacological approaches to attenuate stress and to develop adjunctive therapies for PTSD. More specifically, we are considering examination of effects of: humor and laughter; time to "recover" after being exposed to stressors; martial arts; music. Ideally, we hope to use a psychobiological assessment approach that includes human laboratory experiments, human field/clinic studies, and parallel animal experiments.