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Human Research Studies That Investigate the Biological, Neurochemical, and Brain Circuitry Mechanisms of Cognitive Aging

Paul A Newhouse, M.D., Director
Center for Cognitive Medicine
Department of Psychiatry
615-936-0928  (office)

Cognition includes abilities of attention, learning, and memory, and can be made better or worse by emotion. Cognitive processes involve a variety of brain systems: discrete structures such as the hippocampus and amygdala, neurotransmitters such as acetylcholine, and hormones such as estrogen. Cognitive abilities change with aging and our laboratory investigates how alterations in learning and memory may be caused by specific neurobiological changes in the brain due to aging or stressful events.

We are particularly interested in how sex hormones such as estrogen and progesterone interact with neurotransmitter systems that are specifically involved in attention and memory including acetylcholine. We are also interested in how sex hormones affect emotion and emotion-regulating structures of the brain such as the amygdala and frontal cortex in older women. Other studies in our laboratory look at how chemotherapy affects cognition and the brain (so-called “chemobrain”) in breast cancer patients and in collaboration with the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center, we are studying how memory can be treated in adults with Down Syndrome. With better treatment of breast cancer and Down Syndrome patients, individuals are living into older age with a better quality of life.

Our lab uses both short-and long-term hormone and drug administration studies along with cognitive testing and functional brain imaging. Cognitive assessments are completed during neuroimaging at the Vanderbilt University Institute for Imaging Sciences (VUIIS) and outside the scanner at the Vanderbilt Clinical Research Center (CRC).

For more information about our lab and research studies, visit:

Students interested in working with our lab should contact: Sally Ross at