Results Announcement: BrainsCAN Accelerator Internal Granting Program

March 12, 2021 - BrainsCAN Communications

The eighth round of BrainsCAN’s Accelerator Internal Granting Program results have been announced. Two, two-year projects were funded under this round.

Neural correlates of adolescents’ adaptation to the COVID-19 pandemic: A Longitudinal fMRI study
Lead applicant: Pan Liu
Co-applicant(s): Elizabeth Hayden, Marc Joanisse, Kate Harkness, Kasey Stanton
Budget: $98,568

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the measures taken to control its spread are unprecedented, large-scale stressors. While the pandemic is affecting all age groups, adolescents may be especially vulnerable given that adolescence is a high-risk period for developing anxiety and depression. Worse still, many stressors that may induce depression and anxiety are common during the pandemic (e.g., social isolation, reduced activity, uncertain prospects, disruption in the home), rendering this an especially high-risk period. However, there are tremendous individual differences in stress responses, raising the question of how to identify those at greatest risk for negative responses. The possibility of identifying brain markers of youth vulnerability to the pandemic and its sequelae has strong implications for identifying at-risk youth, models of stress and mental health, and targeted prevention in the context of a largescale, long-lasting stressor. By capitalizing on a pre-existing cohort of youth with relevant data collected prior to the pandemic, we will collect new behavioural and brain data from these youth that we have studied for many years. By drawing upon both the pre- and post-pandemic data, we can examine the mechanisms associated with adolescents’ adaptation and responses to pandemic-related stress.

Dissecting the neural basis for cognitive impairment during stress
Lead applicant: Wataru Inoue
Co-applicant(s): Julio Martinez-Trujillo
Budget: $106,400

Stress impairs cognition in otherwise healthy people and dramatically worsens cognitive dysfunction in mental disorders including depression and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorders. A large body of evidence from animal and human studies suggests that stress changes the chemistry of the brain, and as a result interferes with the networks of brain cells (neurons) in an area of the brain called the prefrontal cortex (PFC). The PFC is important for certain types of cognitive functions, for example, to temporarily remember a 7-digit number while making a phone call.

Our research project will reveal a cellular mechanism for stress-induced cognitive impairment. We will focus on one group of neurons that is part of the PFC neural network and produces a neurotransmitter, corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH). In other parts of the brain, CRH mediates stress-related changes, such as anxiety and stress hormone release. But, because of technical difficulties, if and how CRH affects cognition are poorly understood. We will develop cutting-edge techniques to precisely measure and artificially manipulate the activity of CRH neurons in the PFC in living brains. The success of our project will open the door to understanding the neural mechanisms for how stress impairs cognitive functions and may contribute to mental disorders.

For more information about the Accelerator Internal Granting Program, please visit

For more information about past Accelerator results, please see: