The McCann Lab

About Us

Psychiatric disorders manifest affective symptoms and physiological biomarkers. We study these biomarkers and their applications in the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness. In particular, our research focus is on anxiety and stress-related disorders.

How does the Acoustic Startle Response (ASR) and its associated blink response correlate with the severity of PTSD? How does a mindfulness-based intervention influence the affective and physiologic symptoms of first responders with PTSD? How does self-quarantine due to the COVID-19 pandemic affect the symptomatology of psychiatric in-patients?

We use a wide range of novel technology and various platforms in clinical research to explore these questions. Work in the McCann Lab ranges wide in scope, from mechanistic questions regarding brain-regional blood flow to physiological analytics of heart rate variability and blink response across different populations. Much of our ongoing work focuses on diagnosis and treatments of PTSD with the aim of incorporating idiopathic Parkinson’s disease and TBI-Induced Parkinson’s (Dementia Pugilistica) as well.

Ongoing Projects

MARS Study

We have developed technology to characterize parameters of the blink reflex that results from the acoustic startle response. The acoustic startle response (ASR) is a reflex of defensive muscular activity elicited by acoustic stimuli, characterized in humans by a whole-body startle reflex, and blink reflex. In humans, the blink reflex (BR) can be characterized by its velocity, amplitude, latency, habituation, and prepulse inhibition; these traits may differ across populations. Accordingly, ASR and its consequent BR have potential as surrogate biomarkers for neurological and psychiatric disorders. Our current research seeks to characterize this blink response in populations of first responders with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) through a novel mobile application, the Mobile Acoustic Startle Reflex-monitoring System (MARS). Preliminary findings indicate promising differences between the blink characteristics of healthy and PTSD populations—thus holding implications for the diagnosis, monitoring, and treatment of PTSD. 

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We are studying the effects of a novel 8-week mindfulness-based intervention (TCMMMRT) on alleviating PTSD and associated symptomology. TCMMMRT stands for Tai Chi Moving Mindfulness Meditation and Resilience Training. TCMMMRT was developed by Sifu Jones, a retired law enforcement officer and tai chi expert, and is a form of simplified tai chi that incorporates mindfulness meditation, with a focus on awareness of physical movements. This intervention is being studied in hopes of reducing PTSD severity in first responders by counteracting the functional changes identified in the brains of patients with PTSD. In particular, while PTSD symptoms are associated with decreased activation of the prefrontal cortex (PFC) and increased amygdala activity, mindfulness meditation is associated with increased PFC activation and decreased amygdala activation.

FHAB Study

We have developed a set of stimulus methods to activate the hippocampus for human fMRI research. By using satellite sounds from previous startle models, we are trying to investigate the relationship between brain-regional blood flow and sounds in psychiatric and brain injury patients. We aim to establish standard fMRI brain maps in control and diverse patient populations suffering from idiopathic Parkinson’s disease and Dementia pugilistica. Our lab will compare signal pathway data detected with the fMRI and pair blood-oxygen-level-dependent (BOLD) signals with physiologic measures of blink reflex (BR), pupil dilation, skin conductivity response, and variations of prepulse inhibition. Our hopes for this experiment are to identify potential evidence of surrogate sound response networks that can detect disease in the brain.

Meet the Team


Contact Us

If you are interested in participating in any of our studies, please email [email protected] or any of the lab members listed above in “Meet the Team.”