Jessica Raper, PhD

Assistant Professor Division of Developmental and Cognitive Neuroscience, Yerkes National Primate Research Center and Department of Pediatrics, School of Medicine at Emory University

I am a developmental neuroscientist with a focus on behavioral neuroendocrinology. Using a nonhuman primate (NHP) model, I investigate 1) the long-term impact of early brain perturbations and 2) the neurobiological mechanisms that underlie human neuropsychiatric disorders. Temporal lobe structures (e.g., amygdala, hippocampus) are particularly vulnerable to early insult, such as direct damage from perinatal hypoxia, viral infection, or traumatic brain injury, and indirect insult from neonatal anesthesia exposure or early adversity (e.g., childhood neglect or stress). These early brain insults lead to permanent alteration of behavior and neuroendocrine systems, such as emotional dysregulation and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis dysfunction. Additionally, atypical development and function of limbic structures are implicated in many neurodevelopmental psychiatric disorders, including autism spectrum disorder, schizophrenia, and mood disorders. Given that limbic structures are essential for learning the social and emotional significance of stimuli in the environment, it is not surprising that despite very different clinical profiles, these neurodevelopmental disorders are all characterized by alterations in social, emotional and stress regulation. The goal of my research program is to understand the neurobiological mechanisms that underlie these common alterations. My lab combines NHP behavior and stress neuroendocrinology approaches with viral infection, anesthesia exposure, or chemogenetic manipulations to gain critical insights into the neurodevelopmental processes that support socioemotional behavior and neuroendocrine development.