Research

The Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology serves as a major campus facilitator for bridging training in the fields of behavioral science, neuroscience, and immunology.

The Cousins Center brings together diverse group of scientists with the goal of understanding the role of immunological mechanisms that underlie behavioral disturbances with impacts on mental health.

The Cousins Center consists of core faculty conducting PNI-based research studies on aging, alcohol and substance abuse, cancer, infectious diseases, inflammatory diseases and mind-body interactions.  Many studies within these research areas frequently have opportunities to participate for members of the public.  In addition, the center has its own on-site Inflammatory Biology Core Laboratory and Psychophysiology Laboratory.

Research Highlights 2007 - 2017

The Cousins Center for PNI investigates the interactions between the brain and the body, and is the leading center in the nation that is examining emerging biological themes on the reciprocal regulation of immune response gene expression and central nervous system (CNS) function (Irwin and Cole Nature Rev Immunol 2011). Indeed, over the last five years, we have made great strides in 1) developing a comprehensive understanding of the role of behavior, singly and in combination with personal and genomic characteristics, in the risk for mental- and physical disorders; and 2) translating such knowledge into effective behavioral strategies that have the potential to prevent disease, facilitate healing, and enhance well-being, across the life span. For example in regards to depression risk, we have found that sleep disturbance drives inflammation (Irwin et al. Arch Intern Med 2006; Biol Psych 2009), which in turn alters brain sites involved in reward processing and emotion regulation to induce fatigue (Bower et al. J Clin Oncol 2011) as well as anhedonic- and depressive symptoms (Eisenberger et al. Neuroimage 2009; Biol Psych 2010).  Prospective findings have confirmed that sleep disturbance uniquely predicts depression recurrence (Cho et al. Am J Psych 2008),which undergirds the first large scale trial that targets sleep disturbance and inflammation for thepreventionof depression in older adults. Other studies have examined the role of social stress, and found that feelings of social rejection and social isolation trigger the activity of pro-inflammatory immune cells (Slavich et al. PNAS 2011; Cole et al. PNAS 2011), in which genomic variants in inflammatory signaling gate depression-related mortality risk in older adults (Cole PNAS 2010) yet have protective effects in adolescents (Cole et al. Develop Psych 2011).  In addition, such social stress alters adrenergic signaling of innate immune response to induce and accelerate tumor metastases (Sloan et al. Cancer Res 2011). Finally, the Cousins Center is at the forefront in the application of behavioural interventions to modulate pro-inflammatory signaling with effects on insomnia- and depression outcomes.  These randomized controlled trials have docuĀ­mented reductions in pro-inflammatory cytokine activity following cognitive behavioural therapy, meditation, Tai Chi, and yoga (Zautra et al. J Consult Clin Psychol 2008; Irwin et al. Sleep 2008; Am J Ger Psychiatry 2011; Lavretsky et al. Am J Ger Psychiatry 2011; Bower et al. Clin Cancer Res 2011) with benefits on remission of insomnia- and depressive symptoms in cancer survivors and older adults, and disease activity in patients with inflammatory disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis.  Over the last 5 year, extramural funding of Cousins Center faculty have grown by over 5-fold, with an annual budget of nearly $5,000,000 in grants administered by the Center, with participation of Cousins Center faculty in affiliated grants with an annual budget totaling over $14,000,000.