Dr. Vergara-Lopez’s program of research focuses on identifying neurobiological mechanisms that underlie psychopathology and related problems (e.g., substance use). Her laboratory takes a developmental perspective and examines the role of cognition (e.g., cognitive control, memory associations, cognitive biases, repetitive negative thinking, rumination), stress, and contextual factors (e.g., prenatal insults, parenting influences, neuroendocrine function, number and types of stressors experienced, and perceived stress), and sex/gender differences (e.g., sex hormones, menstrual cycle). Methodologically, Dr. Vergara-Lopez’s laboratory capitalizes on the systematic pairing of experimentally-controlled human laboratory paradigms with intensive longitudinal methods. The ultimate goal of her work is to identify early markers of risk for psychopathology and related problems (e.g., substance use) to help deter the drastic increase in rates of psychopathology and substance involvement observed by the time individuals reach young adulthood.
Currently, Dr. Vergara-Lopez's is serving as the principal investigator/project lead on two projects. One project is focused on examining cognitive control, stress, and repetitive negative thinking as predictors of substance use and depression among young adults (18-25 years old). A main aim of this project is to investigate sex-specific pathways (including the role of stress and sex hormones) to substance use and depression co-occurrence. This project is funded by a Mentored Clinical Scientists Research Career Development Award-K08 from National Insitute on Drug Abuse and a Brown Alpert Medical School Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior Diversity Early Career Faculty Development Award. A second project is a 12-year longitudinal study focused on examining the impact of childhood maltreatment (e.g., sexual/physical abuse, and/or neglect) and other adversities (e.g., witnessing domestic violence, community violence, trauma, stressors associated with poverty) on cognitive mechanisms and mental health outcomes among adolescents (15-17 years old). This project is part of the Brown Initiative on Stress, Trauma, and Resilience (STAR) (https://www.brown.edu/initiatives/star/home) and funded by a Center of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences. Both of these projects utilize laboratory paradigms (e.g., performance-based assessments of cognitive control, induction of repetitive negative thinking, eye-tracking), ecological momentary assessment, and biospecimen collection.