Daniela Schiller, PhD
The Neural mechanisms of emotional control and flexibility
Dr. Schiller's line of research focuses on the neural mechanisms underlying emotional control. Because the environment we live in is constantly changing, our learned emotional responses need to be continuously updated to appropriately reflect current circumstances. Understanding the neural mechanisms that make such emotional flexibility may shed light on the impairments leading to anxiety disorders and may also promote new forms of treatment.
In her doctoral research she studied one such aspect of emotional learning, namely, the ability to acquire emotional responses to previously ignored stimuli, which is impaired in patients suffering from chronic schizophrenia. Under the mentorship of Ina Weiner, she developed an animal model of this symptom (persistent latent inhibition) and examined the underlying neural circuitry, as well as the efficacy of antipsychotic drugs in ameliorating it.
For post-doctoral training, Dr. Schiller chose to extend her knowledge to human emotional systems under the mentorship of Elizabeth Phelps and Joseph LeDoux, where she developed a translational research program aimed at extending fundamental findings in rats to humans. This research project included parallel findings in rats and humans on the recovery of extinguished fear, elucidation of the neural circuitry of flexible fear reversal, and how fear motivates instrumental responding. In addition, to extend these findings to more complex situations unique to humans, she investigated how emotional systems are recruited to rapidly evaluate others during initial social encounters.
Finally, in extreme situations, when emotional memories become traumatic, it might be beneficial to erase fear memories altogether preventing them from resurfacing. Evidence in rats and other non-human species suggests this might be possible using pharmacological manipulations. However, these finding have yet to be demonstrated convincingly in humans. Dr. Schiller tested this possibility, by examining whether emotional memories induced in the laboratory can be erased using drug-free behavioral manipulations. These studies are essential in providing a critical link between animal models and the clinical population.
Dr. Schiller joined the faculty here at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in 2010, first as an Assistant Professor (Investigator Track) jointly appointed in the Department of Neuroscience and Department of Psychiatry. She was promoted to Associate Professor in 2015, received Tenure in 2020, and promoted to Professor in 2021. Dr. Schiller has developed a highly productive research lab focused on Affective Neuroscience with particular interest in emotional learning and memory and social cognition. Her lab made discoveries on the neural computations that take place when forming fear memories and their aberrance in PTSD. She has also developed a novel approach to examine dynamic social relationships by delineating navigational computations of social space in the human brain.
Dr. Schiller has been continuously funded by NIH, and has received numerous awards. She is a Fulbright scholar, a recipient of the Blavatnik Award, a Klingenstein-Simons fellow, and a Kavli fellow of the National Academy of Sciences. Dr. Schiller has also been highly active in science outreach and the development of training programs for effective science communication.
Visit Dr. Daniela Schiller's Laboratory of Affective Neuroscience for more information.
Brain Imaging, Cognitive Neuroscience, Depression, Memory, Stress, Trauma
Multi-Disciplinary Training Areas
Genetics and Genomic Sciences [GGS], Neuroscience [NEU]