Dean F. Salisbury, PhD
Professor of Psychiatry
Dr. Salisbury, Associate Professor of Psychiatry, is the Director of the Clinical Neurophysiology Research Laboratory. He earned his doctorate degree in Biological Psychology at the State University of New York at Stony Brook and completed a clinical research training fellowship focusing in Neuropsychiatry at the Harvard Medical School. Dr. Salisbury spent the last 20 years at McLean Hospital and Harvard Medical School studying the neurophysiology of psychosis.
Dr. Salisbury’s research interests focus on schizophrenia pathophysiology and human electrophysiology. He utilizes electrophysiology and multimodal brain imaging to examine thought disturbance (cognitive-level) and basic auditory processing abnormalities (sensory-level) in psychosis, and specializes in event-related potential recordings in humans. Dr. Salisbury has also collaborated extensively with colleagues using magnetic resonance imaging and functional magnetic resonance imaging methods on a number of research projects.
The goal of Dr. Salisbury’s work is to further understand the neurophysiology of psychosis. Brain activity measures span simple sensory and perceptual processes to complex higher-order cognition. Dysfunction in local circuit activity, reflected in sensory processing deficits, and in long-range distributed cortical processing, reflected in deficits in the interplay between semantic memory neural storage networks and working memory systems that allow adaptive and flexible human behavior in the face of unique current situations, are the main areas of inquiry by which Dr. Salisbury and his team try to detect the underlying brain abnormalities giving rise to psychosis. Understanding of the basic dysfunctions, in turn, will lead to earlier identification, better interventions, and improved outcome in schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders.
Brian Coffman, PhD
Research Instructor in Psychiatry
Dr. Brian Coffman is a research instructor in the Clinical Neurophysiology Research Lab (CNRL). He earned his BS, MS, and Ph.D. in Psychology at the University of New Mexico, where his primary mentor was Dr. Vincent P. Clark. Dr. Coffman has been involved with neuroimaging and cognitive neuroscience research since 2007, when joined the Mind Research Network in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Dr. Coffman’s current research interests include cognitive neuroscience, clinical neuroimaging, brain stimulation, and neuroinformatics. In particular, he has pursued interests in functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), electroencephalography (EEG), magnetoencephalography (MEG), transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), and mathematical/computational problems associated with neuroimaging data analysis. Dr. Coffman has published basic science research as well as research in various clinical populations, and he has applied multimodal neuroimaging data to complex problems in clinical diagnosis and treatment. Dr. Coffman’s current research examines sensory and perceptual electrophysiological processes in Schizophrenia patients in an effort to further understand the neurophysiology of psychosis, and aid in earlier diagnosis and better treatment interventions for this unfortunate population.
Xi Ren, PhD
Dr. Xi Ren is a postdoctoral associate in the Clinical Neurophysiology Research Lab (CNRL). She earned her BA in Psychology at University of Kansas and her MA and Ph.D. in Psychology at the University of Missouri-Columbia, where her primary mentor was Dr. Steven A. Hackley. Dr. Ren joined the CNRL lab in 2018.
Dr. Ren’s current research interests include utilizing electrophysiology and multimodal imaging techniques to understand the mechanisms underlying cognitive and functional abnormalities associated with various clinical populations. Her current work examines both surface- and source-level electroencephalography (EEG) and magnetoencephalography (MEG) from first-episode psychotic patients during auditory processing. Her goal is to identify potential biomarkers to aid early diagnoses and interventions for psychosis, which eventually could improve outcome for these psychotic population.
Alfredo Sklar, MD-PhD
PGY3 Resident at UPMC
Dr. Alfredo Sklar is currently a PGY3 resident at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center psychiatry residency program. He earned his BA in psychology at Haverford College and his medical and graduate degrees in the combined MD-PhD program at the University of Florida. He joined the Clinical Neurophysiology Research Laboratory following acceptance into the Psychiatry Research Pathway during his PGY2 year and is currently vice-chief resident of the program.
Dr. Sklar’s research interests include the examination of neural mechanisms that contribute to the cognitive deficits, predominantly working memory and selective attention, associated with psychotic illness. His current work includes the study of visual processing deficits and how they might contribute to functional impairments early in the course of psychosis using multimodal imaging techniques. Identifying the various levels of perceptual processing at which dysfunctions arise in psychosis is key to elucidating the mechanisms underlying some of its least well treated yet most devastating symptoms. As a clinician-scientist, Dr. Sklar plans to apply the knowledge gained in the laboratory to the improved identification and treatment of psychotic symptoms in patient populations.
Julia Longenecker, PhD
Advanced Fellow and Visiting Scholar
Dr. Julia Longenecker is an Advanced Fellow at the Mental Illness Research Education Clinical Center at the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System and a Visiting Scholar at the University of Pittsburgh. She received a PhD in Clinical Psychology from the University of Minnesota and completed her Clinical Psychology Internship at the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System. She joined the Clinical Neurophysiology Research Laboratory in August 2019.
Dr. Longenecker’s research examines behavioral and neural mechanisms by which perceptual dysregulation is linked to clinical features of schizophrenia spectrum disorders. She uses electrophysiological (EEG) approaches to identify biomarkers associated with specific symptom profiles in psychosis. As well, she incorporates emerging taxonomical models of psychopathology into her work, hypothesizing that these measures may better account for clinical heterogeneity in research samples.
Mark T. Curtis
I am a graduate student in the Center for Neuroscience at the University of Pittsburgh (CNUP). I completed my BA in Psychology at Illinois Wesleyan University, where I worked in Dr. Abigail Kerr’s lab researching the mechanisms of stroke recovery in a mouse model. As my research interests shifted in my first year of graduate school from studying animal models to studying human populations, I joined the Clinical Neurophysiology Research Lab in the summer of 2017.
My current research interest is investigating the cognitive processing dysfunction in patients with schizophrenia and related disorders. I am interested in using convergent approaches of EEG, MEG, and MRI to study both functional cognitive deficits and structural abnormalities in patients. A better understanding of these dysfunctions will lead to improved identification, treatment, and outcome for patients with schizophrenia.
Vanessa Yumiko Fishel, BS
I received a Bachelor of Science in Psychology with a minor in Japanese from the University of Pittsburgh in 2016. After taking a few neuropsychology courses and working with the brain in an internship, I realized I wanted to work with the brain in some capacity. Shortly after I graduated, I joined a nicotine addiction lab, which led to my interest in alcoholism research. In the fall of 2017, I joined the Clinical Neurophysiology Research Lab. I hope to attend a graduate program in the future to pursue a PhD in Clinical Psychology, researching alcoholism.
Natasha Torrence, BS
I attended Allegheny College in Meadville, PA where I received a Bachelor of Science in both Psychology and Neuroscience from 2013-2017. I was introduced to research during my second year of undergraduate, and I’ve been enthralled since. Thus far, my research has spanned from health and social psychology, and with the Clinical Neurophysiology Research Lab, I have a chance to delve into clinical psychology. In the future, I hope to pursue my PhD in social psychology, with an emphasis on health and well-being.
I graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 2018 and recieved degrees in Neuroscience and Psychology, with a minor in Physics. I joined the Clinical Neurophysiology Research Lab in 2017 as an undergraduate, and I completed my undergraduate thesis on “Arcuate Fasciculus White Matter Abnormalities in First Episode Psychosis”. The project that I’m working on examines white-matter connectivity between areas in the auditory and language related circuits. I will process and analyze MRI data, clinical data, and neuropsychological performance scores in a group of first episode psychosis individuals and well comparison subjects. I will be looking specifically at the frontal and temporal lobe connection between Wernicke’s and Broca’s areas and cross-callosal auditory cortex connections.
I attended the University of Georgia where I received a Bachelor of Science in Genetics and Biology with an emphasis in Neuroscience while playing softball for the university. I then went to Georgetown University as a part of the inaugural class of the new Masters in Neuroscience program where I worked in a computational cognitive neuroscience lab researching object processing and recognition. I joined the Clinical Neurophysiology Research Lab in December 2018 where I hope to learn more about psychology and psychiatry through research and work with our unique population. In the future, I plan on attending medical school and hope to bring mental health treatment to underserved communities.
I received a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology with a minor in Neuroscience from Penn State. After graduating I worked as a research technician in a cell biology lab studying the regeneration of neurons after injury. I joined the Clinical Neurophysiology Research Lab in the beginning of 2019 because I wanted to broaden my research in neuroscience, as well as combine it with my interest in medicine. While in the lab I hope to learn more about EEG, MEG, MRI and other methodologies used in clinical psychology research. I plan to attend medical school in the future and later specialize in neurology or psychiatry.
Senior- University of Pittsburgh
I’m a neuroscience and computer science major at the University of Pittsburgh. I joined the CNRL in 2016 and completed a study looking at Heshl’s Gyrus volume and mismatch negativity in first episode schizophrenia. I am currently analyzing the gamma band response to auditory stimuli in first episode psychosis.
Freshman- University of Pittsburgh
I am currently a neuroscience major at the University of Pittsburgh. I joined the CNRL in the spring of 2019 because I wanted to gain experience in psychiatric research, specifically clinical schizophrenia research. The project I am working on seeks to determine differences in the auditory attention of people experiencing first episode psychosis and healthy controls, in the hopes of developing a biological test to identify patients who are at risk of developing psychosis.
Junior- University of Pittsburgh
I’m a rising junior on the pre-med track at the University of Pittsburgh where I’m pursuing a Neuroscience major with a concentration in Children’s literature. I spend a lot of time volunteering in hospitals and hope to go to med school in the future. I joined CNRL in 2019 and am working on MRI scan processing.
Junior- University of Pittsburgh
I am a neuroscience and music performance major at the University of Pittsburgh. During freshman and sophomore year, I did psychology and linguistics research at the Learning Research and Development Center on developing a trait-based measure for standards of coherence in reading, and relationships between standards of coherence, reading habits, and need for cognition. I joined the CNRL in January of 2019, and have worked mostly on P300 processing and analysis comparing controls with participants presenting with first episode psychosis. It is my hope to gain more knowledge on imaging techniques and the neurophysiology of mental illness, with an intent of pursuing medical school upon graduation.
Rising Freshman- The Ohio State University
I am a rising freshman at The Ohio State University, with plans to major in Neuroscience on a Pre-Med track. I joined the CRNL in the summer of 2019 to gain experience with research, as well as to gain more knowledge about neuroscience and psychosis.
Sarah M. Haigh, PhD
I am a post-doctoral associate in the Clinical Neurophysiology Research Lab (CNRL). I grew up in the UK and moved to Pittsburgh January 2013. I completed my BSc at the University of Bristol in Experimental Psychology, and my PhD in Sensory Neuroscience at the University of Essex under the supervision of Prof. Arnold Wilkins. My first post-doctoral position was at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, with Dr. Marlene Behrmann and Dr. David Heeger (New York University) to work on the neurological correlates of autism using individuals with schizophrenia as a comparison group. I also completed two study visits during my PhD to York University with Dr. Frances Wilkinson, and to the Institute für Arbeitsforschung, Dortmund, Germany, with Dr. Wolfgang Jaschinski.
My main research interests focus on physiological responses to basic sensory stimuli, and specifically what drives the system to over-respond (hyper-excitable) or under-respond (hypo-excitable). I am interested in what this can reveal 1) about certain clinical conditions, for example, schizophrenia, autism, migraine or photosensitive epilepsy, and 2) about early sensory processing in non-clinical individuals. By measuring the correlation between behavioral and cortical responses, potential early diagnosis biomarkers can be identified and monitored for impairments or improvements in sensory processing in clinical conditions.
I have used a mixture of techniques to measure sensory sensitivities, including psychophysics, the electroencephalogram (EEG), near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS), EEG and NIRS simultaneously, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), and the auto-refractor (to measure ocular accommodation). My PhD focused on visual processing, but my first post-doctoral position at Carnegie Mellon included auditory and somatosensory processing.
Christiana Butera, MEd
Christiana Butera was the CNRL’s first research assistant and played a major role in building our lab from the ground up. After working in our lab, Christiana went on to receive a Masters of Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She is currently a PhD student at the University of Southern California working under Dr. Aziz-Zadeh.
Kayla Ward was recruited as a research assistant in 2015. She served an instrumental role collecting and processing EEG data for several projects and grant submissions. She is currently a Masters student at Jefferson University studying Physical Therapy.
Tim K. Murphy, BS
Research Project Manager
Tim received a Bachelor of Science in Psychology with a minor in neuroscience at the University of Pittsburgh. After graduating in April 2012, he began working in the Clinical Neurophysiology Research Lab. Currently he is in graduate school studying Cognitive Neuroscience at Carnegie Mellon University and, more specifically, how the brain learns to categorize phonemes through statistical regularities in speech sounds. He is also very interested in predictive processes occurring in the brain and how they unfold over time. Of particular interest to him is the contribution of the basal ganglia and cerebellum to these processes. He hopes to answer these questions using a combination of computational, behavioral, and physiological methods.
Justin Leiter-McBeth, BS
In 2012 he moved to Kent, OH to attend Kent State University where he received a Bachelor of Science in Psychology. He volunteered in different labs during his undergrad focusing on child attachment, mindfulness, and mood disorders. He also worked as a neurofeedback (EEG biofeedback) technician during my senior year. He joined the Clinical Neurophysiology Research Lab in the summer of 2016. He is attending graduate school at the University of Toledo to pursue a doctorate degree in Clinical Neuropsychology. He is interested in psychosis, autism, mood disorders, as well as mindfulness based therapies and techniques.
Christian Andreaggi was an undergraduate researcher who helped analyze and present findings on our Auditory Repetition Suppression project. After graduating, Christian entered Pitt’s School of Pharmacy.
Senior – University of Pittsburgh
My role in the CNRL lab is to help analyze the data collected for a study that compares the sensory responses of first episode psychosis patients to healthy controls. Participants go through a variety of auditory tests that are able to gauge attention deficits through an EEG. The goal of the study is to determine a potential diagnostic tool that recognizes schizophrenia early enough to allow for preventative treatments.
Sophomore – Carnegie Mellon University
At CNRL I will be programming a protocol to study implicit categorical learning for schizophrenia with the Systematic Multimodal Associations Reaction Time (SMART) task and EEG. I will look at the relationship between visuomotor dimensions and auditory categories.
Junior- University of Pittsburgh
I’m a neuroscience major at the University of Pittsburgh who joined the Clinical Neurophysiology Research Lab in Fall 2017 due to my interest in the progression of mental illness. During my time at CNRL, I will be responsible for analyzing EEG data of control participants and first episode psychosis/schizophrenia patients in an attempt to find a biological marker that is indicative of these mental illnesses. Up until this point, the MMN (Mismatch negativity) deficiency in mentally ill patients has shown to be only evident when the patient has a chronic form of the disease, and so our aim is to create more complex auditory sequences to assess the functionality of auditory cortex through EEG. With these more complex patterns, we are hopeful that we will be able to find a true biological marker and have the ability to diagnose and treat patients at earlier stages in mental illness progression.