UAMS Brain Imaging Study to Help Target Psychological Treatment for Abused Adolescent Girls

By David Robinson

LITTLE ROCK – A researcher at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) Psychiatric Research Institute has received $405,000 for a two-year brain imaging study that will help target mental health treatments for abused adolescent girls.  

During the study funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Institute of Mental Health, 45 girls ages 11-16 will receive brain scans before and after a widely used 12-week course of behavioral therapy. 

Abused girls are a focus of the study because they are about twice as likely as abused boys to have persistent mental distress, such as posttraumatic stress disorder, said Joshua Cisler, Ph.D., the study’s principal investigator. The standard behavioral therapy (Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) is effective in about two-thirds of girls.

The study will identify patterns within the brain that are associated with each girl’s response to the behavioral therapy. 

“What we want to know is before we give an abused child this treatment, can we determine whether or not that child is going to respond to it,” Cisler said. “If the child is in that one-third that doesn’t respond to the therapy, then let’s consider alternative treatments.”

Although understanding what’s happening in the brain is not by itself a solution to the problem, he said it will suggest new, exciting ways to address the problem.

Cisler will use a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) device at the Psychiatric Research Institute. Such devices are relatively new and can measure small changes in neural functioning in the brain.

The NIH award, he said, was made possible by the UAMS Translational Research Institute, which provided $20,000 to enable his compilation of pilot data for the NIH application.

UAMS is the state’s only comprehensive academic health center, with colleges of Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Health Professions and Public Health; a graduate school; a hospital; a statewide network of regional centers; and seven institutes: the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, the Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute, the Myeloma Institute for Research and Therapy, the Harvey & Bernice Jones Eye Institute, the Psychiatric Research Institute, the Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging and the Translational Research Institute. Named best Little Rock metropolitan area hospital by U.S. News & World Report, it is the only adult Level 1 trauma center in the state. UAMS has more than 2,800 students and 775 medical residents. It is the state’s largest public employer with more than 10,000 employees, including about 1,000 physicians and other professionals who provide care to patients at UAMS, Arkansas Children’s Hospital, the VA Medical Center and UAMS’ Area Health Education Centers throughout the state. Visit or