Current Research Interests:
My primary goal is to understand how brain mechanisms of emotional learning contribute to psychiatric disorders and how to best use our knowledge of these mechanisms in prevention and treatment. In particular, I am interested in emotional trauma and attachment. Using animal models, innovative behavioral protocols, functional anatomy methodologies, viral vector techniques and pharmacological manipulations, our group works on identifying brain systems and cellular mechanisms critical for these processes. My clinical practice (I work as a child, adolescent and adult psychiatrist at the University of Michigan Department of Psychiatry) and collaborations with other research groups put us in a unique position to apply our basic research in preclinical and clinical settings.
We are currently pursuing two major lines of research:
Basic Mechanisms of Emotional Learning and Memory
Memories are made in stages. After initial acquisition, at first unstable, new learning becomes consolidated into persistent long-term memories. However, retrieval of the consolidated memory enables its modification: strengthening, weakening or updating, depending on the circumstances of the retrieval. These postretrieval memory processes are known as memory reconsolidation. We study molecular, cellular and systems mechanisms underlying emotional memory acquisition, storage, maintenance and expression, with a special focus on reconsolidation. Memory reconsolidation mechanisms have been proposed to be involved in a variety of pathological conditions including posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), phobias, obsessions and compulsions, substance addictions, “false memories” phenomena, delusions and others. Studying reconsolidation processes may thus help us to better understand the nature of these conditions and open new ways of treating them.
Early Infant Trauma and Parent-to-Infant Transmission of Trauma
Humans and other mammalian species depend on parental care for long periods of time after birth. Survival of the infant fundamentally depends on developing attachment to the caregiver who reciprocally bonds with the child. Maternal presence typically attenuates infant's stress responses. However, maternal distress or deprivation of maternal care during the developmentally critical periods of time may make children more vulnerable to other environmental stressors. We study early infant trauma in the context of attachment. We investigate how trauma affects attachment and how healthy attachment and bonding protect from the effects of trauma. Our group works on identifying neural circuits and molecular mechanisms underlying infant's vulnerability and resilience to psychological trauma with the ultimate goal of developing interventions reversing negative effects of these early childhood adversities.
Link to my lab website:
Awards and Honors:
2015 Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association
2015 Todd Ouida Clinical Scholar Award, University of Michigan Depression Center
2015 NARSAD Young Investigator Award, Brain & Behavior Research Foundation
2010 NARSAD Young Investigator Award, Brain & Behavior Research Foundation
2010 Donald F. Klein Early Career Investigator Award, Anxiety Disorders Association of America
2009 Outstanding Resident Award, National Institute of Mental Health
2007 Neal E. Miller New Investigator Award, Academy of Behavioral Medicine Research
2000 Fulbright Fellowship, Polish-US Fulbright Commission
1998 Herder Fellowship, Toepfer Stiftung, Germany
Chang D-J, Debiec J. (2016) Neural Correlates of the Mother-to-Infant Social Transmission of Fear, Journal of Neuroscience Research 94:526-534.
Debiec J, Sullivan RM. (2014) Intergenerational transmission of emotional trauma through amygdala-dependent mother-to-infant transfer of specific fear, Proc Natl Acad Sci USA, 19;111(33):12222-7.
Debiec J. (2014) The Matter of Emotions: Towards a Brain Theory of Emotions”; in: J. Debiec et al (Eds.) The Emotional Brain Revisited, Copernicus Center Press, 146-161.
Debiec J (2012). Memory reconsolidation processes and posttraumatic stress disorder: promises and challenges of translational research, Biological Psychiatry 71(4): 284-285.
Debiec J, Bush DEA, LeDoux JE (2011). Noradrenergic enhancement of reconsolidation in the amygdala impairs extinction of conditioned fear in rats - a possible mechanism for the persistence of traumatic memories in PTSD, Depression and Anxiety, 28 (3): 196-93.
Debiec J, Doyere V, Diaz-Mataix L, Bush DEA, LeDoux JE (2010). The amygdala encodes specific sensory features of an aversive reinforcer, Nature Neuroscience, 13 (5): 536-537.
Doyere V, Debiec J, Monfils M, Schafe GE, LeDoux JE (2007). Synapse-specific reconsolidation of distinct fear memories in the lateral amygdala, Nature Neuroscience, 10 (4): 414-416.
Debiec J (2007). From affiliative behaviors to romantic feelings: a role of nonapeptides, FEBS Letters 581 (14): 2580-2586.
Debiec J, Doyere V, Nader K, LeDoux JE (2006). Directly reactivated, but not indirectly reactivated, memories undergo reconsolidation in the amygdala. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA, 103:3428-3433.