Listed below are the active research studies led by Women’s Mental Health Research Program’s Principal Investigators (PIs) that receive internal or external funding support. The WMHRP team also conducts research with many collaborators throughout UIC, locally and nationally. Current collaborative research projects are also listed below.
If you are interested in participating in research, please visit our Participate in Research page.
Since the beginning of her research career, Dr. Maki has led a program of NIH-funded research on cognition and brain function in aging women, including neuroimaging studies of sex differences in Alzheimer’s disease. She also serves as Head of the Society for Women’s Health Research Interdisciplinary Task Force on Alzheimer’s disease. Women show an advantage over men in verbal learning and memory, neuropsychological measure that are used in the diagnosis of amnestic MCI (aMCI) and Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Dr. Maki and colleagues have undertaken a series of investigations to test the hypothesis that the female advantage in verbal memory might delay the clinical manifestation of aMCI and AD in women in men, so that the level of neurodegeneration in women once diagnosed with aMCI or AD is more advanced than that of men. Using the AD NeuroImaging (ADNI) database, they found that sex modifies the relationship between scores on verbal memory tests and neuroimaging biomarkers of AD (i.e., hippocampal volume, brain glucose metabolism) across stages of AD. Consistent with their hypotheses, they found that women showed better verbal memory than men in aMCI despite similar levels of hippocampal atrophy and despite similar reductions in brain glucose metabolism. This work suggests a need for sex-based norms for verbal memory tasks when diagnosing aMCI and AD.
NIA – P30 AG010161-28
This project will leverage cognitive trajectory and biomarker data from the Rush Memory and Aging Project to test whether applying a sex adjustment to the normative data and clinical cut-scores of verbal memory tests will improve diagnostic precision and help identify and treat AD in women at an earlier disease stage. This study is funded by the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center National with an award from the National Institutes on Aging.
Our research with HIV+ women has been aimed at understanding how different female-specific risk factors contribute to their cognitive and mental health. Studying HIV+ women is particularly important given that these women may be at greater risk for cognitive deficits/declines due to issues of underserved communities including poverty, low literacy levels, low educational attainment, substance abuse, mental health issues. In our Neurology publication (Maki, Rubin, et al. 2014), we demonstrated that HIV-infected women show a prominent deficit in verbal learning and memory and attention compared to at-risk HIV-uninfected (HIV-) women. Across multiple studies we have identified certain factors that are differentially associated with verbal learning and memory in HIV-infected compared to HIV-uninfected women including crack/cocaine use, menopausal anxiety, insulin resistance, and perceived stress. We have also shown that post-traumatic stress was associated with worse scores on tests of verbal learning, memory, and psychomotor speed, and our structural and functional imaging studies suggest that the prefrontal cortex plays a critical role in stress-related memory impairments in HIV+ women.
This is an ongoing program of research to investigate the predictors of neurocognitive function and HIV Associated Neurocognitive Disorders (HAND) in HIV-infected women in the Women’s Interagency HIV Study (WIHS) Chicago Consortium. The WIHS is a multi-site prospective epidemiology cohort study of women who either are infected with HIV or are at increased risk for acquiring HIV infection. The WIHS is primarily funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), with co-funding from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), National Cancer Institute (NCI), and National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
NIMH -- R01 MH113512
This R01 grant examines the effects of low-dose hydrocortisone (LDH) on cognition in HIV+ women with the goal to identify and assess an adjunctive therapy for the treatment of cognitive dysfunction in HIV+ women. This study is funded by the National Institute on Mental Health.
For the past 20 years, Dr. Pauline Maki has led a program of NIH-funded research on cognition and brain function in aging women. This program examines the role of menopause, vasomotor symptoms (VMS), and hormonal fluctuations on neuropsychological test performance and functional and structural neuroimaging outcomes.
In the past decade, our understanding of the role of menopause stage and menopausal symptoms on cognitive function has greatly expanded. There is now increasing evidence from large-scale prospective studies that women both report increased memory complaints and perform worse on memory tests during the menopausal transition. Dr. Maki’s work demonstrates a significant relationship between subjective memory complaints and objective memory declines, and also shows considerable individual differences in this relationship, with some women reporting few memory complaints and performing well on memory tests, and others having significant complaints and significant impairment. Dr. Maki’s work has contributed to the understanding of the factors underlying these changes in memory. Although there is strong evidence that the vasomotor symptoms (VMS) women report are unrelated to memory performance, Dr. Maki and collaborators discovered that physiologic VMS, as measured with ambulatory skin conductance monitors, bear a strong relationship with memory performance. Women under-report physiological hot flashes by about 45%, so measuring physiologic VMS with monitors appears to be critical in unmasking the relationship between VMS and memory.
NIA - RF1 AG053504
This multi-year R01 equivalent grant examines the relationship between vasomotor symptoms, the cardinal symptom of menopause, and structural and functional integrity of the brain and cognitive function. This study is funded by the National Institute on Aging.
NIA - R01 AG049924
This multi-year grant supports a randomized, sham-controlled clinical trial of stellate ganglion blockade on vasomotor symptoms in midlife women. Secondary outcomes include cognition, mood, brain imaging outcomes, and autonomic nervous system activity. This study is funded by the National Institute on Aging.
Depression is the most common complication of pregnancy and greatly affects low-income women of color. Perinatal depression has profound health implications for both mother and infant, therefore it is critically important to screen and treat pregnant women for mental health issues. Pilot studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago show that 16% of disadvantaged patients develop depression during pregnancy or the early postpartum. The scope of perinatal mental health research currently ongoing in the WMHRP includes establishing an enduring research database linking longitudinal mood and mental health data to medical records and banked biological specimens; studying the gut microbiome in pregnancy; and developing web-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) interventions to prevent and treat perinatal depression in women.
NICHD – R03 HD095056
This two-year R03 grant aims to determine the feasibility of a longitudinal study to monitor the changes in the microbiome associated with perinatal Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) in a diverse sample of low-income minority women. In addition, the proposed study will assess differences in gut microbiota in pregnant women with MDD and pregnant women without MDD. This study is funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
NCATS - UL1TR002003
This project aims to implement a validated computerized adaptive testing (CAT) to assess perinatal mental health into routine clinical care, as well as testing the feasibility and acceptability of an online intervention (Sunnyside for Moms) to prevent and treat perinatal depression.
Menstrual cycle-linked hormone withdrawal is correlated with suicide attempts; in a series of two intensive mechanistic clinical trials, this K99/R00 award provides the first experimental evidence regarding the effects of menstrual cycle-linked ovarian hormone withdrawal on perimenstrual (around menses) increases in females with recent suicidality. These studies utilize transdermal estradiol (estrogen) patches and oral micronized progesterone pills to test several different hypotheses about the role of ovarian hormone withdrawal in worsening symptoms of suicidality among at-risk females. These intensive studies are the first of their kind. Results of the first experiment, completed at UNC Chapel Hill in 2017, strongly support the notion that perimenstrual worsening of suicidality is caused by natural perimenstrual withdrawal from ovarian hormones, and that prevention of that withdrawal using exogenous hormones can prevent these recurrent spikes in suicide risk that occur around menses onset. The R00 experiment will determine whether this effect is due to withdrawal from estrogen, progesterone, or both.
Gia Allemand Foundation
The purpose of this study is to pilot a smartphone-administered version of the Carolina Premenstrual Assessment Scoring System (C-PASS) diagnostic system for cyclical mood disorders in the context of the PI’s K99 award from NIMH. This project seeks to validate the steroid-sensitive nature of the C-PASS in the context of the K99 experimental design.