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Behavioral Neuroscience Research in Stress (Conrad)

Keywords:  stress; spatial memory; hippocampus; neural plasticity; anxiety; corticosterone; rodent behavior; PTSD

Lab Research Area:

Conrad Behavioral Neuroscience Lab 2019-20 Team

Our goal is to understand the mechanisms by which stress influences brain plasticity and resilience. The stress response is vital for organism survival and yet, a dysregulated stress response can be deadly. Understanding stress balance will be necessary for optimal health and survival. We have received funding from the National Institutes of Health and several foundations to study chronic stress in rodents. Chronic stress shares many parallels with major depression, including a dysregulated stress hormone profile and altered size and function of limbic brain regions. As such, research using chronic stress in animal models provides unique insights into the neurobiological underpinnings that could provide novel directions for therapeutic treatment. We also study models for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by investigating the mechanisms underlying fear memory formation, extinction and reconsolidation.

Current studies in PTSD research are aimed at understanding the processes by which a robust fear memory can be weakened so that a previously traumatic memory becomes less distressing. Additional collaborations include understanding morphological changes that manifest following traumatic brain injury with the goal of identifying novel targets for potential intervention.

Lab Director and Principal Investigator:
Cheryl D. Conrad, PhD, Professor and Honors Disciplinary Faculty and Assistant Vice President of Research Development in Knowledge Enterprise Development

Cheryl Conrad Professor Conrad is a member of the Behavioral Neuroscience area and is affiliated with programs in the Molecular and Cellular Biology and Animal Behavior in the School of Life Sciences, and the interdisciplinary Neuroscience Program. Her passion is in neuroendocrine modulation of cognitive processes, with an emphasis on the stress system on memory and anxiety. She first studied auditory neuroplasticity with Dr. Norman Weinberger at the University of California, Irvine, earning two degrees in Biology and Chemistry. At the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, Dr. Conrad worked with Dr. Edward Roy on the neuroendocrine (gonadal and adrenal) system influences on spatial cognition. As a postdoctoral fellow, Dr. Conrad worked with Dr. Bruce McEwen to investigate mechanisms of stress on spatial ability. Dr. Conrad has been at ASU since 1997 is passionate about her student’s training and success. Curriculum Vitae.

Current Doctoral Students

Jessica Judd, Doctoral Student, Behavioral Neuroscience, Department of Psychology

Jessica did her undergraduate work at the University of Missouri where she majored in Chemistry and Psychology. She joined Dr. Conrad's lab due to the wide range of psychological disorders that chronic stress is implicated in and her history of collaboration with other researchers to answer the question at hand. Her current research focuses on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A history of chronic stress has been identified as a risk factor for the development of the strong fear memories that characterize PTSD. She uses chronic stress in rodent models and fear conditioning to understand the cellular and molecular changes that are responsible for PTSD with the goal to identify targets for treatment. In her free time, she enjoys dancing, bike riding, cooking, traveling, and playing video games.   

Dylan Peay Doctoral Student, Behavioral Neuroscience, Department of Psychology

 Dylan earned his undergraduate degree in Biology with a secondary teaching certificate from Temple University, College of Science and Technology, Philadephia. He joined Dr. Conrad’s research team in the fall 2017 semester and is interested in the cognitive effects following chronic stress.



 Current Undergraduate Research Assistants

Our Lab Alums: where are they now?

Former Doctoral Students and Post-doc Associates:

  • J. Bryce Ortiz, PhD, 2017, currently a postdoctoral student at University of Arizona
  • Sara Taylor, PhD, 2012-2014, currently an Assistant Professor at Hendrix College, AR
  • Annie Hoffman, PhD, 2013, currently a postdoctoral associate at UCLA
  • Sarah Baran, PhD, 2008, Neurophysiologist, Active Diagnostics, Inc., CA
  • Katie McLaughlin, PhD, 2007, Medical Liaison, Eli Lilly & Co, IN
  • Ryan Wright, PhD, 2007, Medical Liaison, Eli Lilly & Co, IN

Former Undergraduate Students:

  • Charles Armstrong, graduated 2009, earned MD from University of Arizona, Phoenix 
  • Milica Miocevic, graduated 2010, earned PhD from ASU in Quantitative Psychology
  • Agnieszka Mika, graduated 2011, earned PhD from University of Colorado Boulder
  • Jeffery Hanna, graduated 2012, currently in master’s program at U of A medical school
  • Salma Kemmou, graduated 2015, earned a masters from ASU in Global Affairs and Management
  • Julia Anglin, graduated 2014, currently in PhD program at UCLA
  • Kenji Nishimura, graduated 2016, in PhD program at the University of Texas, Austin
  • Pooja Paode, graduated in 2016, working at ASU in the College of Health Solutions
  • Diego Padilla-Garcia, post-bac volunteer, currently in PhD program at the University of California, Santa Barbara
  • Eshaan Daas, 2017, graduated with BS in Molecular Biosciences and Biotechnology, currently in Medical school at Univ of Arizona, Phoenix
  • Aaron Flegenheimer, 2017, currently in medical school at Tulane School of Medicine
  • Brittany Le, 2017, graduated 2017, currently in Opthamology School at Western University of Health Sciences, Pomona CA
  • Vrishti Shah, graduated in 2018, applying to medical schools
  • Elizabeth Hanson, graduated in 2018
  • Jamie Jackson, graduated 2002, earned PhD at Ohio State University, OH
  • Lindsay Wieczorek, graduated 2004, earned PhD at Washington University, MO
  • Jonathan Kleen, graduated 2005, earned PhD and MD at Dartmouth University, NH
  • Cainan Foltz, graduated 2005, earned MD from Stanford Univesity
  • Rudy Bellani, graduated 2005, earned PhD from The Rockefeller University, NY
  • James Harman, graduated 2005, earned DO from West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine
  • Juan Gomez, graduated 2006, earned PhD from Hunter College, CUNY, NY
  • Gillian Hamilton, graduated 2007, earned PhD from University of Delaware, DE
  • Jessica Wilson, graduated 2007, University of Illinois, Chicago, MD program
  • Matthew Young, graduated 2008, earned PhD from University of Pennsylvania, PA
  • Mariam El-Ashmawy, graduated 2008, University of Texas, Southwestern Med Ctr, Dallas, MD/PhD program
  • Thu Huynh, post-undergraduate volunteer, earned PhD from New York University, NY
  • Logan Martin, graduated 2017
  • Iva Vracar, graduated 2017


Select Publications

Recovery from Chronic Stress: Chronic stress impairs hippocampal plasticity and function, but these return to pre-stress conditions in the weeks after chronic stress has terminated. The following papers report upon these neuroplastic and cognitive outcomes in the recovery phase following the termination of chronic stress. A more complete listing of Dr. Conrad's work may be found in her curriculum vitae.

For an updated list, visit Google Scholar.


Ortiz, J.B., Taylor, S.B., Hoffman, A.N., Campbell, A.N., Lucas, L.R., & Conrad, C.D. (2015). Sex-specific impairment and recovery of spatial learning following the end of chronic unpredictable restraint stress: Potential relevance of limbic GAD. Behavioural Brain Research, 282, 176-184. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.bbr.2014.12.051

Hoffman, A.N., Parga, A., Paode, P.R., Watterson, L.R., Nikulina, E.M., Hammer, Jr., R.P., & Conrad, C.D. (2015). Chronic stress enhanced fear memories are associated with increased amygdala zif268 mRNA expression and are resistant to reconsolidation. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, 120, 61-68. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.nlm.2015.02.004

Prokai, L., Nguyen, V., Szarka, S., Garg, P., Sabnis, G., Bimonte-Nelson, H.A., McLaughlin, K.J., Talboom, J.S., Conrad, C.D., Shughrue, P.J., Gould, T.D., Brodie, A., Merchenthaler, I., Kolulen, P., Prokai-Tatrai, K. (2015). The bioprecursor 10b, 17-dihydroxyestra-1,4-dien-3-one delivers 17-estradiol selectively into the female brain. Science Translational Medicine, 7, 1-10. DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aab1290

Taylor, S.B., Conrad, C.D., & Olive, M.F. (2015). Stress and spatial performance in the rat. Chapter 8, In The Maze Book: Your Guidebook to Theories, Practice, and Protocols for Testing Rodent Cognition, Bimonte-Nelson, H.A. (Ed), Humana Press, NewYork, NY, Neuromethods, Vol 94, pp. 211-258. ISBN 978-1493921584


Ortiz, J.B., Mathewson, C.M., Hoffman, A.N., Hanavan, P.D., Terwilliger, E.F., & Conrad, C.D. (2014). Hippocampal BDNF mediates recovery from chronic stress-induced spatial reference memory deficits. European Journal of Neuroscience, 40, 3351-3362. DOI: 10.1111/ejn.12703

Hoffman, A.N., Lorson, N.G., Sanabria, F., Olive, M.F., & Conrad, C.D. (2014). Chronic stress disrupts fear extinction and enhances amygdala and hippocampal Fos expression in an animal model of post-traumatic stress disorder. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, 112, 139-147. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.nlm.2014.01.018

Taylor, S.B., Anglin, J.M., Paode, P.R., Riggert, A.G., Olive, M.F., & Conrad, C.D. (2014), Chronic stress may facilitate the recruitment of habit- and addition-related neurocircuitries through neuronal restructuring of the striatum. Neuroscience, 280, 231-242. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroscience.2014.09.029


Hoffman, A.N., Anouti, D.P., Lacagnina, M.J., Nikulina, E., Hammer Jr., R.P., & Conrad, C.D. (2013). Experience-dependent effects of restraint stress on corticolimbic c-Fos expression. Stress, 16(5), 587-591. DOI: 10.3109/10253890.2013.804505

Ortiz, J.B., McLaughlin, K.J., Hamilton, G.F., Baran, S.E., Campbell, A.N., & Conrad, C.D. (2013). Estradiol and perhaps cholesterol protect against corticosterone-induced hippocampal CA3 dendritic retraction in gonadectomized female and male rats. Neuroscience, 246, 409-421. DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2013.04.027


Mika, A., Mazur, G. J., Hoffman, A.N., Talboom, J.S., Bimonte-Nelson, H.A., Sanabria, F., & Conrad, C.D. (2012). Chronic Stress Impairs Prefrontal Cortex-Dependent Response Inhibition and Spatial Working Memory. Behavioral Neuroscience, 126(5), 605-619. DOI: 10.1037/a0029642

Conrad, C.D., McLaughlin, K.J., Huynh, T., El-Ashmawy, M., & Sparks, M. (2012). Chronic stress and a cyclic regimen of estradiol administration separately facilitate spatial memory: Relationship with CA1 spine density and dendritic complexity. Behavioral Neuroscience, 126(1), 142-156. DOI: 10.1037/a0025770

Hutchinson, K.M., McLaughlin, K.J., Wright, R.L., Ortiz, J.B., Anouti, D.P., Mika, A., Diamond, D.M., & Conrad, C.D. (2012). Protective effects of enriched environment against chronic stress on cognitive and morphological measures of hippocampal integrity. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, 97, 250-260.  http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.nlm.2012.01.003

Camp, B.W., Gerson, J.E., Tsang, C.W.S., Villa, S.R., Acosta, J.I., Braden, B.B., Hoffman, A.N., Conrad, C.D., & Bimonte-Nelson, H.A. (2012). High serum adrostenedione levels correlate with impaired memory in the surgically menopausal rat: A replication and new findings. European Journal of Neuroscience, 36, 3086-3095. DOI: 10.1111/j.1460-9568.2012.08194.x


Huynh, T.N., Krigbaum, A., Hanna, J.J., & Conrad, C.D. (2011). Sex differences and phase of the light cycle modify chronic stress effects on anxiety and depressive-like behavior. Behavioural Brain Research, 222, 212-222. DOI: 10.1016/j.bbr.2011.03.038

Hoffman, A.N., Krigbaum, A.M., Ortiz, J.B. §, Mika, A., Hutchinson, K.M., Bimonte-Nelson, H., & Conrad, C.D. (2011). Recovery after Chronic Stress within Spatial Reference and Working Memory Domains: Correspondence to Hippocampal Morphology. European Journal of Neuroscience, 34, 1023-1030. DOI: 10.1111/j.1460-9568.2011.07820.x

Conrad, C.D. (2011). Chronic stress and hippocampus vulnerability to functional changes and health in the adult. The Handbook of Stress: Neuropsychological Effects on the Brain. Conrad, C.D., Ed., Wiley-Blackwell Publishers, New York, NY, pp. 324-348. ISBN: 978-1-4443-3023-6

 Conrad, C.D., Ed., (2011) The Handbook of Stress: Neuropsychological Effects on the Brain, Wiley-Blackwell Publishers, New York, NY. Forward by Robert Sapolsky and reviews from Drs. James McGaugh and Mary Dallman. ISBN: 978-1-4443-3023-6

ASU Now news story:  Stressed out over your misplaced keys? Or is it the other way around?  by Emma Greguska, 4/13/16.



The Behavioral Neuroscience group moved back into a newly renovated Psychology building in state-of-the-art facilities in August 2015! The layout of the wet labs and graduate/postdoctoral offices allows for frequent personnel interactions across research laboratories. Several sitting areas are strategically positioned to allow impromptu meetings in a relaxed, comfortable atmosphere. Designated testing rooms in a separate quarter provide quiet space for optimal testing of behavior. 


On June 21, 2015, Cheryl Conrad was an invited speaker at the Society for the Promotion of Applied Research in Canine Science (SPARCS) and spoke on the topic of, “Does Stress Make You Stupid?” For more information, go to: http://www.sparcsinitiative.org/


 Congratulations to Bryce Ortiz for acceptance in the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) 2015 Summer Program in Neuroscience, Ethics & Survival (SPINES) at Woods Hole! Bryce was among a few dozen graduate students, postdoctoral associates and junior faculty who were selected to participate in the prestigious summer program. 


Congratulations to Pooja Paode (left) and Eshaan Daas for earning the School of Life Sciences Undergraduate Research (SOLUR) awards in 2015-2016! Pooja and Eshaan were undergraduate volunteers who were able earn a SOLUR standing based upon their academic success and research proposals! They also presented their work locally at ASU and nationally at the Society for Neuroscience conference in Chicago, 2015.

Brain Awareness activities are very important. We showcase our behavioral neuroscience research laboratory work to the community. All faculty, postdoctoral, graduate and undergraduate students volunteer at many events throughout the year. Cheryl Conrad (right) is showing an actual human brain to one of the visitors to the Psychology Booth at ASU Homecoming. We bake cookies to commemorate the event!

The Conrad team (below) attends conferences throughout the year to disseminate our findings, network with other neuroscientists, and learn about the newest discoveries and technologies.