Associate Professor of Psychology
Director of Behavioral Neuroscience Program
Joined Connecticut College: 1999
Impact of stress on behavior and neural function
Animal models of psychopathology
Role of serotonin in fear/anxiety-related behaviors
Mount Holyoke College, B.A.; University of Colorado, M.A., Ph.D.
As a behavioral neuroscientist, Dr. Grahn's central interest is to investigate the mechanisms by which neural activity mediates behavior. She has taken an approach that is best described as functional neuroanatomy. How does activity in Brain Region X control or modulate Behavior Y?
For example, she has demonstrated that the dorsal raphe nucleus, a small brain region containing serotonin, is involved in generating a behavioral state called learned helplessness in rats. This behavioral state is caused by exposure to events that the rat is unable to escape or control and is widely considered to be an animal model of depression.
Very recent work has characterized learned helplessness as a model of anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder as well. It is hoped that understanding how serotonin from this brain region controls anxious behaviors in rats will provide a better understanding of the underlying biology of these complex human conditions.
Dr. Grahn at present is using a functional neuroanatomy approach to investigate how serotonin is involved in other effects of stress, with an emphasis on defensive behavior in rodents in response to predator odor. She is also exploring a range of animal models of anxiety to explore the neural basis of generalized anxiety, panic disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder. This work is supported by a grant from NIMH that is specifically tailored to undergraduate research.
Dr. Grahn teaches the following courses: Psychology as a Natural Science PSY 101, Behavioral Neuroscience PSY 314 (every spring), Psychopharmacology PSY 322, Behavioral Endocrinology PSY 409 (alternate springs), Psychology of Stress PSY 426/526 (alternate springs), Psychology of Pain, 402/502 (occasionally). She also sponsors individual studies and honors studies.
Recent Society for Neuroscience (www.sfn.org) presentations with students:
Grahn, R.E., Casey, K.M., Frey, P.E., Littman, M.S., Long, C.D., Paris, N.J., Petrill, G.T., and Tatka, J.. (2006). A comparison of the effects of cat and fox odor on defensive behavior and Fos immunoreactivity in rats. Proc. Soc. Neurosci., 32
Grahn, R.E., Clark, E.L., De Bari, H., Lydon, S.E., Ramos, J.F., Kalman, B.A. (2005). The impact of elevated plus-maze exposure on defensive behavior and 5-HT neural activity in the dorsal raphe nucleus induced by predator odor. Proc. Soc. Neurosci., 31.
Kalman, B.A., and Grahn, R.E. (2004). Measuring salivary cortisol in the behavioral neuroscience laboratory. Journal for Undergraduate Neuroscience Education, 2, http://www.funjournal.org/