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SYMPOSIUM 4: The Neurobiological Consequences of War

Max Cleland, Elizabeth A. Phelps, Clifford J. Woolf, Geoffrey Ling, Frances E. Jensen, Gene D. Block


Advocate Remarks - Senator Max Cleland

Neurobiology of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder - Elizabeth A. Phelps, PhD
Long after a war ends, the consequences can live on in the persistent traumatic memories experienced by combat veterans. With PTSD, the traumatic memories become disabling, preventing the return to a normal life. Estimates of the incidence of PTSD among combat veterans range from 9-30%. Because of this, understanding the science of PTSD and being able to use this science to develop treatment is a critical goal of neuroscience research. I will briefly review the brain systems believed to be affected with PTSD and highlight some recent advances in basic science that show promise for future treatments.

Neuropathic Pain - Clifford J. Woolf, MD, PhD
Pain is an essential protective warning system, a sensory alarm triggered by risk of injury. Following traumatic damage to the nervous system, its function can be profoundly and irreversibly altered such that pain is now generated in the absence of any ongoing injury. This false alarm represents a disease state of the nervous system manifesting as neuropathic pain. The risk of developing this pain has a genetic component and we can exploit this to find ways of preventing its establishment.

Brain and Spinal Cord Injuries in Wounded Veterans - Col. Geoffrey Ling, MD, PhD
Traumatic brain (TBI) and spinal cord (SCI) injuries remain significant health problems here in the US and  worldwide. They are leading causes of death and disability, particularly among young adults. In the recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, TBI is considered the “signature injury.” Mild TBI or concussion has been underdiagnosed and undercounted, but is now gaining prominence. In response, clinical practice guidelines have been developed. Unfortunately, effective treatment remains elusive. This is in spite of decades of research efforts by leading scientists and substantial financial investment. The US military has instituted a system-wide approach of managing this disease.

Remarks from Chair - Frances E. Jensen, MD

UCLA Invitation - Gene D. Block, PhD


Senator Max Cleland is the Veteran's Advocate and Secretary for the American Battle Monuments Commission.

Elizabeth A. Phelps is Lab Director at New York University's Department of Psychology. Her research examines the cognitive neuroscience of emotion, learning and memory. Her primary focus has been to understand how human learning and memory are changed by emotion and to investigate the neural systems mediating their interactions. Phelps has approached this topic from a number of different perspectives, with an aim of achieving a more global understanding of the complex relations between emotion and memory. As much as possible, she has tried to let the questions drive the research, not the techniques or traditional definitions of research areas. She uses a number of techniques (behavioral studies, physiological measurements, brain-lesion studies, fMRI) and has worked with a number of collaborators in other domains (social and clinical psychologists, psychiatrists, neuroscientists, economists, physicists). She believes that having focused questions and a broad approach to answering these questions has enhanced the overall quality of her research program and the cross-disciplinary relevance and appeal of her work.

Clifford J. Woolf is Director in the Program of Neurobiology at Children's Hospital Boston.

Col. Geoffrey Ling is the Program Manager and Defense for the Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Frances E. Jensen is Professor of Neurology at Children's Hospital Boston.

Gene D. Block, PhD is Chancellor and Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Science at University of California Los Angeles.


A one-on-one interview with Elizabeth A. Phelps can be found here.