Connectomes for Emotional Disorders Project


In a human brain, there are 500 times more connections than there are stars in our galaxy: that is what we call "the human connectome".

These connections have been found to be affected in patients suffering from depression and anxiety. This is why our Connectomes for Emotional Disorders Project is using cutting edge Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) technology to study them with a high level of detail. Our mission is to characterize the different circuits that contribute to each person’s experience of depression and anxiety. In doing so, we can create customized treatments and preventions.

The Connectomes for Emotional Disorders Project in the PanLab is part of the large multi-site Human Connectome Project, that emphasizes collaboration and open data sharing with the research community worldwide. To learn more about the project, click here.
A human connectome showing the inner wiring of the brain
Sign up to Participate

If you are interested in participating in the study, please complete the following online screening survey:

Filling out the online screening survey means you’re putting your name on our waitlist, and we’ll contact you as soon as possible. If we do not contact you right away, it means we may not be currently recruiting participants, but will be in touch as soon as possible once the study becomes active again.

Thank you for your interest in our studies!

Sign Up Here
Our Goals
Through our Connectomes for Emotional Disorders Project, we aim to:

  • Characterize the structural and functional connectome in depression and anxiety
  • Quantify the relations between specific brain circuits, clinical symptoms, and performance on cognitive tasks
  • Use the functional and structural connectome types to predict behavior, symptoms, and function over one year

We hope that our research will ultimately transform the diagnosis and treatment of depression and anxiety disorders, so that we can potentially improve the lives of over 400 million people in the world who are currently suffering from these mental health problems.
Our Methods
We use a variety of methods to help us understand the connectomes for depression and anxiety, including:
  1. Clinical Measures
    Clinical Measures
    Clinical measures to understand each person’s life experience and symptoms.
  2. Brain Scans
    Brain Scans
    Brain scans to map with precision the connections among brain circuits.
  3. Behavioral Measures
    Behavioral Measures
    Behavioral measures to assess cognitive capacities, such as memory and problem solving, that relate to these brain circuits.

Through our Connectomes for Emotional Disorders Project, we will develop a new model for understanding each person’s experience of mood and anxiety symptoms.

The Science Behind Our Project

Watch our video that explains the PanLab’s approach to researching depression:

The Brain Networks of Interest

Our goal is to use Human Connectome Project (HCP) protocols to collect imaging, behavioral, genetic, and symptom data from 300 individuals who are experiencing a moderate or higher level of anxiety and/or depression symptoms. We ground our investigation in the NIMH Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) initiative, which provides a framework for research aimed at classifying psychiatric disorders based on neural mechanisms.

We are specifically recruiting anxious and/or depressed individuals who are experiencing varying degrees of:
  • Acute threat
  • Loss of reward valuation/responsiveness, and/or
  • Difficulties in working memory.

In the brain scanner, participants will complete a variety of emotional and cognitive tasks that will engage neural networks related to these RDoC constructs.

1. Acute Threat

What is Acute Threat?

The acute threat construct, also known as “fear,” is defined within the RDoC Negative Valence System (NVS) domain. Acute threat involves responses to facial expressions of threat, such as fear and anger.
What brain regions are involved?

At the neural level, acute threat is defined by components of affective networks that comprise the amygdala, insula, anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), and medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC).

Previous studies have shown altered processing of acute threat, involving the amygdala-ACC/mPFC activation and connectivity, across multiple diagnostic categories of disordered emotional states. Individuals with mood and anxiety disorders have been shown to exhibit hyper-activation in the amygdala and hypo-activation in the ACC during MRI tasks that involve viewing fearful and angry facial expressions.
What clinical symptoms relate to acute threat?

Network dysfunctions in acute threat processing may contribute to negative biases in regulating behavioral responses to threat and to symptoms of fear and physiological arousal across disordered emotional states.
2. Reward Valuation/Responsiveness

What is Reward Valuation/Responsiveness?

The reward valuation/responsiveness construct is defined within the RDoC Positive Valence System (PVS) domain. Tasks that elicit this construct involve making decisions to obtain rewarding stimuli (i.e., winning money in a gambling task), as well as responsiveness to outcomes and feedback.
What brain regions are involved?

At the neural level, reward valuation/responsiveness is defined by components of affective networks that comprise the dorsal striatum, orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), and ventral medial prefrontal cortex (vMPFC).

Previous studies have shown that individuals with symptoms of depression display hypo-activation in the striatum and hyper-activation in the OFC during reward processing tasks. 

What clinical symptoms relate to reward valuation/responsiveness?

Atypical activation patterns in the reward valuation/responsiveness brain circuit in depressed patients may contribute to symptoms of anhedonia, referred to as the inability to experience pleasure in normally pleasurable activities.
3. Working Memory

What is Working Memory?

The working memory construct is defined within the RDoC Cognitive System (CS) domain, which involves active maintenance of information, flexible updating, limited capacity processing, and interference control.
What brain regions are involved?

The brain areas involved in these processes include the dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), dorsal parietal cortex (DPC), precentral gyrus (PCG), and anterior cingulate cortex (ACC).

Several studies have shown that patients with depression exhibit hypo-activation in the DLPFC and ACC during working memory tasks. Additionally, depressed patients have shown hyper-connectivity between the ACC, DLPFC, and DPC, which is posited to reflect an inability to engage in working memory and suppress internal thoughts. 

What clinical symptoms relate to difficulties in working memory?

In individuals with anxiety and depression symptoms, network dysfunctions in working memory may contribute to symptoms of cognitive rumination and worry.
4. Default Mode

What is Default Mode?

The default mode network (DMN) is not considered as a definitive construct in its own right, rather is defined as a mode that contributes to multiple RDoC systems including the NVS, PVS, and CS domains. The DMN is active when an individual is not engaged in any tasks (aka during “resting state”).
What brain regions are involved?

The specific brain areas involved in the DMN include the anterior medial prefrontal cortex (amPFC), angular gyrus (AG), and posterior cingulate cortex (PCC).

Studies investigating anxious and depressed individuals have shown that these patients exhibit hyper-activation and hyper-connectivity of certain brain regions that comprise the DMN.
What clinical symptoms are related to hyper-activity of the default mode?

Hyper-activity in the frontal subnetwork of the DMN has been associated with maladaptive rumination, which is defined as when an individual compulsively focuses their attention on the various aspects of situations that are upsetting.
Participate in the Connectome Project

Eligibility Criteria

For this study, we are seeking people who are:

  • Ages 18-35
  • Currently experiencing anxiety and/or depression symptoms (with or without a clinical diagnosis)
  • Not currently receiving treatment
  • No substance or alcohol abuse within the past 12 months
  • No lifetime history of psychosis
  • fMRI scanning eligibility, including no evidence of any form of metal embedded in the body (i.e., pacemakers, surgical clips, metal wires, etc.) and not currently pregnant or breastfeeding

Study Phases

1. Screening Survey​​

The online screening survey is done to make sure the study is a good fit for you.

To take this survey, you can go to the following link:

  • Location: Completed anywhere
  • Duration: 10-15 minutes
  • When: Whenever is best for you!
  • Compensation: None
2. Baseline Assessment​​

The study visit will consist of gathering information on your anxiety and depression symptoms, genetics, performance on cognitive tasks, and brain activation patterns.

Specific tasks include:
  1. Non-invasive MRI Scan (2.5-3 hrs)
  2. Symptom Questionnaires (45 min)
  3. Diagnostic Interview (30-60 min)
  4. Computer and iPad Tasks (1.5 hr)
  5. Saliva Sample (1 min)

  • Location: Stanford University
  • Duration: 6-7 hours
  • When: ASAP after completion of the online screening survey
  • Compensation: $99, a complementary lunch, an image of your brain, a report of your cognitive fuctioning
3. Follow Up 

Part 1:
Brief online survey
  • Location: Completed anywhere
  • Duration: 10-15 minutes
  • When: 3 months after baseline assessment
  • Compensation: $25

Part 2:
Brief online survey
  • Location: Completed anywhere
  • Duration: 10-15 minutes
  • When: 6 months after baseline assessment
  • Compensation: $25

Part 3:
Brief online survey
Location: Completed anywhere
Duration: 10-15 minutes
When: 9 months after baseline assessment
Compensation: $25

Part 4:
Brief online survey
Brief phone interview
Cognitive Testing
Location: Completed anywhere
Duration: 60-70 minutes
When: 12 months after baseline assessment
Compensation: $50
Contact Us
If you are interested in learning more about the Connectomes for Emotional Disorders Project, please feel free to:

Send us an email at
The Connectomes for Emotional Disorders Team
    Leanne Williams, PhD
    Principal Investigator
    Bailey Holt-Gosselin
    Lab Manager, Clinical Operations
    Brooke Staveland
    Lab Manager, Neuroimaging Operations
    Leonardo Tozzi, MD, PhD
    Postdoctoral Fellow
    Hua Wu, PhD
    MRI Research Engineer
    Ian Gotlib, PhD
    Trevor Hastie, PhD
    Russ Poldrack, PhD
    Brian Wandell, PhD
    Max Wintermark, MD
    Adam B. Kerr
    Research Director for the CNI
    Megan Chesnut
    Neuroimaging Research Coordinator
Funding for our Connectomes for Emotional Disorders Project is provided by the National Institutes of Health (NIH): Human Connectome Project.

Title: “Mapping Connectomes for Disordered Emotional States”
Number: U01MH109985 under PAR-14-281