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Brian J. Mickey


Associate Professor of Psychiatry

Brain and Behavior
Neurobiology of Disease


B.S. 1993, University of Washington, Seattle; M.D./Ph.D. 2004; University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor; Psychiatry Residency 2008, University of Michigan Health System; Postdoctoral Fellow, 2010, Molecular & Behavioral Neuroscience Institute, University of Michigan



Neuroscience of mood disorders

Brian Mickey studied physics and biology at the University of Washington, Seattle, and then earned his MD and PhD in Neuroscience at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. After psychiatry residency and postdoctoral fellowship, he joined the faculty at the University of Michigan. In 2015, he moved to the University of Utah, where he is a faculty member in the Department of Psychiatry and in the Neuroscience Program. He has mentored or co-mentored more than a dozen research trainees, from high-school to post-doctoral level.

My research is focused on two themes, one basic and one translational.

Basic: Neural circuitry underlying mood and motivation in humans. Internal mood and motivational states are emergent neural phenomena that guide adaptive behaviors in mammals. Because disorders of mood and motivation are common in humans, the neural basis of these states is of great clinical importance. These phenomena are thought to arise from circuits within the brainstem, ventral basal ganglia, and medial prefrontal cortex. Our work has shown that the function of these circuits (1) varies substantially between individuals, (2) correlates with self-reports, and (3) is influenced by inherited genetic variants. Current work is examining how neural responses to monetary incentives are influenced by polymorphisms in the gene for neuropeptide Y (NPY) and other genes.

Translational: Treatment resistance and novel therapeutics for mood disorders. Severe mood disorders are among the most disabling and costly diseases worldwide, and many individuals do not respond to currently available treatments. A major barrier to development of better treatments is the heterogeneity of depressive illnesses, which have multiple underlying causes. Current work is aimed at (1) developing clinically useful biomarkers that distinguish the diverse forms of depression and (2) identifying the neural mechanisms of novel antidepressant interventions, including general anesthetics and brain stimulation therapies.

My research group uses a variety of techniques to address these questions in human subjects. Positron emission tomography (PET) and magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) assess brain function with neurochemical specificity. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) characterizes neural responses during specific behaviors and perceptions, as well as patterns of brain connectivity at rest. Genetic analyses examine the genetic basis of individual differences in human brain function. These biological studies are combined with clinical trials methodology, including pharmacological and brain stimulation interventions, to define brain mechanisms that mediate change in mood and motivational states.

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Last Updated: 2/28/24