Researcher

Dr Kathryn Baker

My Expertise

  • Neuroscience
  • Inhibition of fear
  • Adolescent brain
  • Learning
  • Memory
  • Fear Extinction

Field of Research (FoR)

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Biography

My research is in developmental psychology and behavioural neuroscience, with a focus on examining psychological and neural changes in emotional memories across adolescent development.


My Grants

  • Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA), 2017-2019, Baker, Impaired fear inhibition in adolescence: an imbalance in the brain?
  • National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Project...view more

My research is in developmental psychology and behavioural neuroscience, with a focus on examining psychological and neural changes in emotional memories across adolescent development.


My Grants

  • Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA), 2017-2019, Baker, Impaired fear inhibition in adolescence: an imbalance in the brain?
  • National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Project Grant 2015 – 2017, Richardson & Baker, A window of vulnerability: Impaired fear inhibition in adolescent rats.
  • The University of New South Wales, Faculty of Science Research Grant 2014, Baker, Neural mechanisms of impaired fear inhibition in adolescence.
  • NHMRC Peter Doherty Early Career Fellowship, 2013 – 2016, Baker, How is fear inhibited in the adolescent brain?

My Qualifications

  • PhD in Psychology, Monash University, 2011
  • Bachelor of Behavioural Neuroscience (Hons), Monash University, 2005

My Awards

2019: UNSW Women in Maths and Science Champions Program Early Career Scientist  https://www.science.unsw.edu.au/unsw-women-maths-and-science-champions-program

2017: Amygdala Function in Emotion, Cognition & Disease (Gordon Research Conference) Travel Award

2017: Early Career Investigator - International Travel Fellowship Award from the Society of Biological Psychiatry (US$2000)

2016: Kucharski Young Investigator Award from the International Society of Developmental Psychobiology

2016: International Society of Developmental Psychobiology Travel Award provided by the NIH (NICHD), Wiley, the Sackler Institute, the Nurture Science Project at Columbia University, and ISDP (US$1200)

2014: International Society of Developmental Psychobiology Travel Award provided by the NIH (NICHD), the Sackler Institute, and the ISDP (US$800)

2014: FENS-IBRO FENS Forum Travel Grant (Euro $750)

2014: European FENS-SfN Summer School 2014 “Neurodevelopmental Psychiatric Disorders”

2013: Amygdala in Health & Disease (Gordon Research Seminar) Travel Award (US$504)

2012: International Society of Developmental Psychobiology Travel Award provided by the NIH (NICHD), the Sackler Institute, and the ISDP (US$750)

2011: Australian Neuroscience Society Student Travel Award

2006 – 2009: Australian Postgraduate Award, Monash University

2009: Undergraduate Psychology Teaching Award (PSY1011), Monash University

2009: Australian Neuroscience Society Student Travel Award

2007: Australian Neuroscience Society Student Poster Prize at IBRO2007

2007: Australian Neuroscience Society Student Poster Prize at IBRO2007


My Research Activities

Research Goals

  • Advancing our understanding of how fear is inhibited in the adolescent brain

Research in Detail

Adolescence is a period of increased vulnerability to anxiety disorders and the brain undergoes substantial maturation during adolescence, particularly in the prefrontal cortex (PFC), a region critical for inhibiting fear in adults. I am interested in how adolescents may be less efficient in utilising prefrontal regions to inhibit fear. My current research is funded by an NHMRC Project Grant (2015-2017) in collaboration with Professor Rick Richardson from the School of Psychology, UNSW Australia. My research has provided the first evidence that the adolescent brain is impaired in the use of amygdala mechanisms to reduce fear and augmented in use of transthalamic pathways to retrieve fear memories. The developmental approach examining adolescent brain maturation is original as most preclinical research examining fear uses adult animals.

Another aspect of my research has focused on treatments that enhance fear reduction in adolescents. For example, I demonstrated the effectiveness of retrieval-extinction manipulations for improving fear inhibition in adolescent rats (Baker et al., 2013, Learning & Memory), an effect that was subsequently reported in human adolescents. My research also made a significant theoretical contribution to understanding how retrieval-extinction manipulations reduce fear by providing evidence challenging the dominant view that these procedures disrupt reconsolidation and lead to erasure of the fear memory. This preclinical research has the goal of adding new knowledge about novel approaches for early interventions for adolescent anxiety.

My early postdoctoral research examined the associative mechanisms underlying the facilitation of fear extinction by the NMDA receptor partial agonist D-cycloserine (DCS). This research has demonstrates that DCS does not augment fear extinction through learned inattention or causing conditioned inhibition to contextual cues. More recently, I have found that DCS improves extinction retention in adolescent rats by increasing activation of the prefrontal cortex. These findings have provided novel insight into the neural mechanisms of a promising pharmacological adjunct for anxiety disorders in youth. 

In another stream of research I am investigating how exposure to stress and unhealthy diets during adolescence affect fear regulation during both adolescence and into adulthood. I have demonstrated that rats fed a high-fat/high-sugar diet in adolescence exhibit impaired fear extinction in adulthood and increased anxiety-like behaviour. 


My Research Supervision


Supervision keywords


Areas of supervision

I am available to joint or co-supervise PhD or Masters students. I am also available to supervise projects for Psychology or Neuroscience (SOMS) Honours.


Currently supervising

Current PhD/M. Psych (Clinical) students 
  • Madelyne Bisby - The role of the endocannabinoid system in fear extinction in adolescent rats (joint supervisor with Professor Rick Richardson) 
  • Anthea Stylianakis - The effect of chronic stress on adolescent human and non-human behaviour, brain function, and genetic regulation (co-supervisor)
Current Honours Psychology
  • Samuel Ma - The effect of D-cycloserine on Pavlovian fear extinction retention and relapse in adolescent rats with chronic fluoxetine exposure

  • Elizabeth Virakorn - The effect of chronic corticosterone exposure on perineuronal net expression and extinction retention in adolescent rats

Past Honours Psychology
  • August Gable (2018) - The effect of the estrous cycle on fear extinction retention and renewal in female adolescent rats
  • Aqsa Shahid (2018) - Feast without fear? The efficacy of tyrosine receptor kinase B (TrkB)-targeted pharmacotherapy in reducing fear in adolescent rats consuming a high-fat high-sugar diet
  • Verity Harris (2017) - The efficacy of D-cycloserine in reducing fear relapse in adolescent rats consuming a high-fat and high-sugar diet or standard diet
  • Bhiravi Thambi (2017) - Can the expression of juvenile fear memories be updated during adolescence? The effect of US re-exposure versus novel CS2-US pairings on extinction retention.
  • Anthea Stylianakis (2016) - Timing is everything: Developmental differences in the effect of stress on extinction retention in adolescence. 
  • Matthew Williams-Spooner (2016) - The effect of short exposures to high fat/high sugar diets during adolescence on retention of fear extinction. 
2015/2016 Faculty of Science Summer Vacation Research Scholarship 
  • Ebony Verbunt

My Engagement

Outreach

2019 - UNSW Women in Maths and Science Champions Program Early Career Scientist  https://www.science.unsw.edu.au/unsw-women-maths-and-science-champions-program

August 2018 - “Speed Meet a Scientist” public event, Sydney Science Festival, Powerhouse Museum

2018 - NHMRC Grant Panel member

2016 & 2017 - Brain Awareness Week, Rainbow St Primary School class demonstration

 

Professional affiliations and service positions

I am a member of the Society for Neuroscience, International Society of Developmental Psychobiology, and International Behavioral Neuroscience Society associations.

I was the Chair of a Biological Psychiatry Australia 2015 meeting symposium (September) “Fear and the developing brain across species: Insights into early-life vulnerabilities for anxiety”


My Teaching

Courses I teach

2016, 2017, 2018 & 2019

PSY3241 - Psychobiology of Memory and Motivation

2015

PSYC2081 - Learning and Physiological Psychology

ECH216 - Infancy and Early Development (Macquarie University)

 

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Location

School of Psychology
University of New South Wales
Sydney NSW 2052
Mathews Building
Room 508

Contact

93850552

Publications

by Dr Kathryn Baker