Faculty Profile: Rao, Uma

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Faculty Information Lab Information (Packet Type, Course Title, & Department) Location
Rao, Uma
Lab Contact:
Adriana Pedroza
(949) 824-7056
Department: Psychiatry & Human Behavior
URP, 5251 California Avenue, Suite 240, Irvine, CA

Research Description

Overarching aims of the research program are (1) to elucidate influential biological, behavioral and psychosocial factors related to child and adolescent behavioral/mental health conditions, and (2) to identify the underlying mechanisms of interventions/treatments for these conditions. Currently, three projects are funded by the National Institutes of Health through Year 2022.

Project 1: The aim is to determine whether adolescents with depressive disorder and a history of childhood abuse have distinct differences in structural and functional neural circuits compared to depressed youth without childhood abuse. Four adolescent groups will be recruited: those with depression and abuse, those with depression but no abuse, those with no psychiatric disorder but have a history of abuse, and those with no disorder or abuse. They will undergo magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) studies to measure structural and functional connectivity profiles in key neural networks associated with the core symptoms of depression (fronto-limbic circuit for depressed mood; fronto-striatal circuit for anhedonia/inability to experience pleasure). If these two depression phenotypes (with/without abuse) have different neural circuitry changes, newer interventions can be developed and tested for the abuse phenotype which shows poor response to traditional treatment strategies.

Project 2: Using a randomized controlled design, we will assess the neural substrates (via MRI scans) of risk-taking and risk-avoidant behavior before and after a 6-week computer-interactive, family-based intervention to reduce HIV-risk behaviors in 11-13-year-old African-American (Black) youth. Psychological processes shown to underlie the intervention effects (i.e. reward-drive and cognitive-emotional self-regulation) on behaviors that dissuade alcohol and drug use and sexual activity will be assessed at baseline and 3 months post-intervention. We will identify neural substrates associated with these psychological processes (i.e. reward-processing and cognitive-emotional self-regulation), and examine whether brain changes in these neural circuits in response to the intervention will predict risky behaviors 3 months later. This information will be helpful in refining the intervention for those who do not benefit from the program.

Project 3: The aim is to examine the mechanisms linking race, stress and biobehavioral factors related to obesity in both natural and controlled environments in African-American (Black) and Non-Hispanic White (White) adolescent females. In the natural environment, we will measure cumulative stress in individual, family and social domains. We will assess the effects of stress on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis through sustained baseline cortisol (hair) and diurnal (24-hr) rhythm (saliva). In addition, we will measure food intake and physical activity for 7 days. We will manipulate acute stress in the lab and measure salivary cortisol/leptin responses to the stressor and compare food intake between non-stress and stress conditions. Also, we will measure obesity-related parameters including anthropometry, body composition (body fat and lean mass) and cardio-metabolic biomarkers. The findings will be helpful in developing more ethnically-sensitive interventions for obesity in minority youth who show poor response to traditional treatment strategies.

Requirements to Participate

3 - 4 hours per unit

1 year Commitment

Faculty Means of Evaluation

Letter Grade
Attendance: 20 points (working assigned hours, being on time)
Lab Work: 50 points (quality, accuracy, integrated synthesis of information and safety)
Communication: 10 points (oral reports, questions and discussion with mentor/assigned staff)
Lab citizenship: 20 points (organization, clean-up and follow through
Total: 100 points