John JB Allen
Distinguished Professor
Professor, BIO5 Institute
Professor, Cognitive Science - GIDP
Professor, Psychology
Professor, Neuroscience - GIDP
Primary Department
Department Affiliations
(520) 621-7448
Work Summary
Depression is a major health problem that is often chronic or recurrent. Existing treatments have limited effectiveness, and are provided wihtout a clear indication that they will match a particular patient's needs. In this era of precision medicine, we strive to develop neurally-informed treatments for depression and related disorders.
Research Interest
Dr. Allen’s research spans several areas, but the main focus is the etiology and treatment of mood and anxiety disorders. His work focuses on identifying risk factors for depression using electroencephalographic and autonomic psychophysiological measures, especially EEG asymmetry, resting state fMRI connectivity, and cardiac vagal control. Based on these findings, he is developing novel and neurally-informed treatments for mood and anxiety disorders, including Transcranial Ultrasound, EEG biofeedback, and Transcranial Direct Current and Transcranial Alternating Current stimulation. Other work includes understanding how emotion and emotional disorders influence the way we make decisions and monitor our actions. Keywords: Depression, Neuromodulation, EEG, Resting-state fMRI


Chambers, A. S., & Allen, J. J. (2007). Sex differences in cardiac vagal control in a depressed sample: Implications for differential cardiovascular mortality. Biological Psychology, 75(1), 32-36.

PMID: 17204359;PMCID: PMC1885549;Abstract:

Previous studies suggest depression is a risk factor for all cause mortality, with depressed men at greater risk than depressed women. Diminished cardiac vagal control (CVC) in depressed patients has also been found to increase risk of cardiac mortality. Previous research found that depressed women have higher CVC than depressed men suggesting CVC might be related to the discrepancy in mortality rates between depressed men and women. This finding, however, was in the context of a study with several methodological weaknesses. The current study sought to replicate the sex difference in CVC in a sample of 137 medically healthy and clinically diagnosed depressed patients. Main effects of sex and age significantly predicted CVC such that depressed women had greater CVC and CVC decreased with age in the cross-sectional sample. The results suggest greater CVC in depressed women might confer cardioprotective functions, which may partially explain the sex difference in mortality rates in the depressed population. © 2006 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Gustafson, K. M., May, L. E., Yeh, H., Million, S. K., & Allen, J. J. (2012). Fetal cardiac autonomic control during breathing and non-breathing epochs: The effect of maternal exercise. Early Human Development, 88(7), 539-546.

PMID: 22264436;PMCID: PMC3753784;Abstract:

We explored whether maternal exercise during pregnancy moderates the effect of fetal breathing movements on fetal cardiac autonomic control assessed by metrics of heart rate (HR) and heart rate variability (HRV). Thirty women were assigned to Exercise or Control group (n = 15/group) based on the modifiable physical activity questionnaire (MPAQ). Magnetocardiograms (MCG) were recorded using a dedicated fetal biomagnetometer. Periods of fetal breathing activity and apnea were identified using the fetal diaphragmatic magnetomyogram (dMMG) as a marker. MCG R-waves were marked. Metrics of fetal HR and HRV were compared using 1 breathing and1 apneic epoch/fetus. The main effects of group (Exercise vs. Control) and condition (Apnea vs. Breathing) and their interactions were explored. Fetal breathing resulted in significantly lower fetal HR and higher vagally-mediated HRV. Maternal exercise resulted in significantly lower fetal HR, higher total HRV and vagally-mediated HRV with no difference in frequency band ratios. Significant interactions between maternal exercise and fetal breathing were found for metrics summarizing total HRV and a parasympathetic metric. Post hoc comparison showed no group difference during fetal apnea. Fetal breathing was associated with a loss of Total HRV in the Control group and no difference in the Exercise group. Both groups show enhanced vagal function during fetal breathing; greater in the Exercise group. During in utero breathing movements, the fetus of the exercising mother has enhanced cardiac autonomic function that may give the offspring an adaptive advantage. © 2011 Elsevier Ltd.

Cavanagh, J. F., Frank, M. J., & Allen, J. J. (2011). Social stress reactivity alters reward and punishment learning. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 6(3), 311-320.

PMID: 20453038;PMCID: PMC3110431;Abstract:

To examine how stress affects cognitive functioning, individual differences in trait vulnerability (punishment sensitivity) and state reactivity (negative affect) to social evaluative threat were examined during concurrent reinforcement learning. Lower trait-level punishment sensitivity predicted better reward learning and poorer punishment learning; the opposite pattern was found in more punishment sensitive individuals. Increasing state-level negative affect was directly related to punishment learning accuracy in highly punishment sensitive individuals, but these measures were inversely related in less sensitive individuals. Combined electrophysiological measurement, performance accuracy and computational estimations of learning parameters suggest that trait and state vulnerability to stress alter cortico-striatal functioning during reinforcement learning, possibly mediated via medio-frontal cortical systems. © The Author (2010). Published by Oxford University Press.

Schnyer, D. M., & Allen, J. J. (1995). Attention-related electroencephalographic and event-related potential predictors of responsiveness to suggested posthypnotic amnesia. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 43(3), 295-315.

PMID: 7635581;Abstract:

Higher frequency electroencephalographic (EEG) activity around 40 Hz has been shown to play a role in cognitive functions such as attention. Furthermore, event-related brain potential (ERP) components such as N1 and P1 are sensitive to selective attention. In the present study, 40-Hz EEG measures and early ERP components were employed to relate selective attention to hypnotic response. Participants were 20 low hypnotizable individuals, half assigned as simulators, and 21 high hypnotizable individuals. Each of these groups was subsequently divided into two groups based on recognition amnesia scores. The four groups differed in 40-Hz (36-44 Hz) EEG spectral amplitude recorded during preinduction resting conditions but not in EEG amplitude postinduction. The groups also differed in N1 amplitudes recorded during hypnosis. Regression analysis revealed that these effects only distinguish the high hypnotizable participants who experienced recognition amnesia from all other groups. The findings support the role of selective attention in hypnotic responsiveness, and the utility of subdividing high hypnotizable individuals is discussed.

Gustafson, K. M., Allen, J. J., Yeh, H., & May, L. E. (2011). Characterization of the fetal diaphragmatic magnetomyogram and the effect of breathing movements on cardiac metrics of rate and variability. Early Human Development, 87(7), 467-475.

PMID: 21497027;PMCID: PMC3114157;Abstract:

Breathing movements are one of the earliest fetal motor behaviors to emerge and are a hallmark of fetal well-being. Fetal respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) has been documented but efforts to quantify the influence of breathing on heart rate (HR) and heart rate variability (HRV) are difficult due to the episodic nature of fetal breathing activity. We used a dedicated fetal biomagnetometer to acquire the magnetocardiogram (MCG) between 36 and 38. weeks gestational age (GA). We identified and characterized a waveform observed in the raw data and independent component decomposition that we attribute to fetal diaphragmatic movements during breathing episodes. RSA and increased high frequency power in a time-frequency analysis of the IBI time-series was observed during fetal breathing periods. Using the diaphragmatic magnetomyogram (dMMG) as a marker, we compared time and frequency domain metrics of heart rate and heart rate variability between breathing and non-breathing epochs. Fetal breathing activity resulted in significantly lower HR, increased high frequency power, greater sympathovagal balance, increased short-term HRV and greater parasympathetic input relative to non-breathing episodes confirming the specificity of fetal breathing movements on parasympathetic cardiac influence. No significant differences between breathing and non-breathing epochs were found in two metrics reflecting total HRV or very low, low and intermediate frequency bands. Using the fetal dMMG as a marker, biomagnetometry can help to elucidate the electrophysiologic mechanisms associated with diaphragmatic motor function and may be used to study the longitudinal development of human fetal cardiac autonomic control and breathing activity. © 2011 Elsevier Ireland Ltd.