• James Eliassen, PhD
  • A&S Psychology Adjuncts
  • Adjunct Assistant Professor of Psychology
  • 859-835-7521
  • Academic Location:
    Office E681A Medical Sciences Services Building
    3224 Eden Avenue
    Cincinnati, OH 45267
  • (513) 558-5863
  • james.eliassen@uc.edu

Professional Summary

  • My research examines learning and the effects of drug abuse and addiction on brain function. I investigate this by studying how the brains of individuals who use addictive drugs differ from the brains of healthy individuals. Using associative learning tasks (games like "Rock, Paper, Scissors") in combination with a brain imaging technique called functional MRI, I study how the brain responds to learning and how drug use alters the typical pattern of brain activity seen in healthy individuals.  In addition to fMRI, I also employ structural MRI, diffusion-weighted/diffusion tensor imaging, MR spectroscopy and event-related potential EEG (ERPs).


  • B.A.: Stanford University, 1988
  • Ph.D.: University of California, Davis, 1997

Research/Clinical Interests

  • The goal of my research is to understand the neural origins of addiction in order to improve addiction treatment. Specifically, my work encompasses two objectives:

    1. To identify the brain regions that participate in reinforcement learning and understand how these regions are affected by addiction,

    2. To develop magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) biomarkers of structural, functional and biochemical changes and electrophysiological changes in the brain during addiction to be used to assess treatment success.

    Drugs of abuse directly and powerfully activate the midbrain dopamine system, which typically participates in reinforcement learning regarding ordinary rewards such as food. Drugs of abuse activate this same system in response to intoxication, but unlike ordinary rewards, the effects of drugs on the dopamine system does not diminish with repeated use.

    Through the action of drugs on the dopamine system, addicted individuals learn to engage in compulsive drug seeking behaviors because these behaviors predict the reward of intoxication. The difference between typical and addicted reward behavior is that a hungry animal will eat until it is satiated and then satisfy other needs, while a drug addict’s desire for intoxication may prevail over the desire to maintain a rewarding lifestyle, including good health, satisfactory job performance, and strong social relationships.

    In most people the negative consequences of a deteriorating lifestyle outweigh the reward of intoxication and drug abuse does not lead to addiction. In other words, the punishments outweigh the rewards at some point for most people.

    Reinforcement learning models do not distinguish between reward and punishment as effective reinforcers of behavior, but addiction appears to distinguish reward and punishment because the reward of intoxication outweighs the punishments of continued drug abuse.

    We are investigating associative learning disorder models of addiction with an eye toward trying to understand why the unpleasant consequences of serious drug dependency does not lead to stoppage of drug use.

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Post Graduate Training/Education
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  • Post-Doctoral Research Associate
    1997-2002, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, Neuroscience
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Positions and Work Experience
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  • 2002-2003,Investigator (Research),Neuroscience,Brown University,Providence, Rhode Island
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Research Grants
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  • 2006-2012. NIH/NIDA-K01. Linking serotonin and memory functions in MDMA users by concurrent EEG and fMRI. . This project examines the hypothesis that serotonergic neurotoxicity causes the learning and memory impairments in recreational MDMA users by examining the electrophysiological markers of memory processing and serotonergic function using concurrent EEG and fMRI. , PI, Completed.
  • 2006-2008. Young Investigator Award, National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression (NARSAD). Identifying a neurochemical basis for fMRI abnormalities in Bipolar Disorder with phosphorus MRSI. This project examines bipolar disorder patients to determine if neurochemical abnormalities, as measured by MR spectroscopy, and functional activation deficits, as measured by fMRI arise in the same brain regions., PI, Active.
  • 2005-2009. American Heart Association. The effects of various durations of electrical stimulation on cortical reorganization and motor recovery in subacute stroke. . This project examines the effects of varying level of electrical stimulation on post-stroke recovery using fMRI to assess changes in cortical activation patterns with successful rehabilitation., Consultant
  • 1 P50 MH077138-01A12007-2012. U. of Cincinnati Bipolar Disorder Imaging & Treatment Research Center (BITREC). This proposal seeks to establish a Mental Health Center for Intervention Development and Applied Research (CIDAR) from the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, Cincinnati, Ohio. The proposed projects will conduct a series of studies that will integrate magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and spectroscopy (MRS) measures with outcome measures in clinical trials designed to identify trait and state aspects of selected metabolism markers which can be used as specific markers of treatment response and illness progression. , Co-Investigator, Active.
  • 2004-2009. R01 NIMH. Anterior limbic network dysfunction in bipolar disorder. This project investigates whether dysfunction in the anterior limbic network is a characteristic trait of bipolar disorder., Co-Investigator
  • 2006-2007. Indiana University Medical Center. fMRI Study of Dedifferentiation and Compensation in Alzheimers Disease, Co-Investigator
  • K01 DA02048509/30/2006-08/31/2012. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Linking Serotonin and Memory Function in MDMA Users by Concurrent EEG and fMRI, PI, Active.
  • 005064-00107/01/2007-12/31/2009. Epilepsy Foundation. Neurobiology of Depression and Suicidality in Epilepsy: A Functional MRI Study, Collaborator, Closed.
  • F30 MH08146112/01/2008-06/30/2013. National Institute of Mental Health. Neural Mechanisms of Impulsivity and Reward Processing in Bipolar Disorder, Collaborator, Active.
  • SRS 00621207/06/2009-06/30/2014. U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council. Blueberry Supplementation, Inflammation, and Metabolism in Cognitive Aging, Collaborator, Active.
  • SRS 00630904/01/2009-03/31/2011. Davis Phinney Foundation. Expectation of Efficacy and Cost of Interventions in the Treatment of Parkinson's Disease, Collaborator, Closed.
  • 1 R03 DA027457-0109/01/2009-08/31/2012. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Effects of SLC6A4, BDNF and Ecstasy Use on Brain Structure in Young Adults, Collaborator, Active.
  • K25 MH08510304/01/2010-12/31/2013. National Institute of Mental Health. Contrasting Glutamatergic Neurotransmission in Bipolar Disorder and Schizophrenia, Collaborator, Active.
  • 1 R15 DC011004-0104/08/2010-09/30/2013. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disor. Temporal Processing Properties of the Auditory System in Cochlear Implant Systems, Collaborator, Active.
  • R01 DA03035403/15/2011-02/29/2016. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Effects of Physical Activity and Marijuana use on Frontolimbic Connectivity During Adolescence: An fMRI Study, Collaborator, Closed.
  • 1 R15 DC011004-0104/08/2010-09/30/2013. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disor. Temporal Processing Properties of the Auditory System in Cochlear Implant Systems, Collaborator, Active.
  • 1 R15 DC011004-0104/08/2010-09/30/2013. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disor. Temporal Processing Properties of the Auditory System in Cochlear Implant Systems, Collaborator, Active.
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Peer Reviewed Publications (in chronological order)
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  • Fleck, D. E., Kotwal, R., Eliassen, J. C., Lamy, M., Delbello, M. P., Adler, C. M., Durling, M., Cerullo, M. A., & Strakowski, S. M. (2011). Preliminary evidence for increased frontosubcortical activation on a motor impulsivity task in mixed episode bipolar disorder.. Journal of Affective Disorders, 133 (1-2), 333-9. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2011.03.053
  • Bernstein, J. A., Hastings, L., Boespflug, E. L., Allendorfer, J. B., Lamy, M., & Eliassen, J. C. (2011). Alteration of brain activation patterns in nonallergic rhinitis patients using functional magnetic resonance imaging before and after treatment with intranasal azelastine.. Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology : Official Publication of the American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology, 106 (6), 527-32. doi:10.1016/j.anai.2011.02.014
  • Strakowski, S. M., Eliassen, J. C., Lamy, M., Cerullo, M. A., Allendorfer, J. B., Madore, M., Lee, J., Welge, J. A., DelBello, M. P., Fleck, D. E., & Adler, C. M. (2011). Functional magnetic resonance imaging brain activation in bipolar mania: evidence for disruption of the ventrolateral prefrontal-amygdala emotional pathway.. Biological Psychiatry, 69 (4), 381-8. doi:10.1016/j.biopsych.2010.09.019
  • Zhang, F., Deshpande, A., Benson, C., Smith, M., Eliassen, J., & Fu, Q. (2011). The adaptive pattern of the auditory N1 peak revealed by standardized low-resolution brain electromagnetic tomography.. Brain Research, 1400, 42-52. doi:10.1016/j.brainres.2011.05.036
  • Harnish, S. M., Neils-Strunjas, J., Eliassen, J., Reilly, J., Meinzer, M., Clark, J. G., & Joseph, J. (2010). Visual discrimination predicts naming and semantic association accuracy in Alzheimer disease.. Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology : Official Journal of the Society For Behavioral and Cognitive Neurology, 23 (4), 231-9. doi:10.1097/WNN.0b013e3181e61cf1
  • Fleck, D. E., Eliassen, J. C., Durling, M., Lamy, M., Adler, C. M., Delbello, M. P., Shear, P. K., Cerullo, M. A., Lee, J., & Strakowski, S. M. (2010). Functional MRI of sustained attention in bipolar mania.. Molecular Psychiatry. doi:10.1038/mp.2010.108
  • Krikorian, R., Eliassen, J. C., Boespflug, E. L., Nash, T. A., & Shidler, M. D. (2010). Improved cognitive-cerebral function in older adults with chromium supplementation.. Nutritional Neuroscience, 13 (3), 116-22. doi:10.1179/147683010X12611460764084
  • McNamara, R. K., Able, J., Jandacek, R., Rider, T., Tso, P., Eliassen, J. C., Alfieri, D., Weber, W., Jarvis, K., DelBello, M. P., Strakowski, S. M., & Adler, C. M. (2010). Docosahexaenoic acid supplementation increases prefrontal cortex activation during sustained attention in healthy boys: a placebo-controlled, dose-ranging, functional magnetic resonance imaging study.. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 91 (4), 1060-7. doi:10.3945/ajcn.2009.28549
  • Page, S. J., Harnish, S. M., Lamy, M., Eliassen, J. C., & Szaflarski, J. P. (2010). Affected arm use and cortical change in stroke patients exhibiting minimal hand movement.. Neurorehabilitation and Neural Repair, 24 (2), 195-203. doi:10.1177/1545968309360501
  • Page, S. J., Szaflarski, J. P., Eliassen, J. C., Pan, H., & Cramer, S. C. (2009). Cortical plasticity following motor skill learning during mental practice in stroke.. Neurorehabilitation and Neural Repair, 23 (4), 382-8. doi:10.1177/1545968308326427
  • Sheinkopf, S. J., Lester, B. M., Sanes, J. N., Eliassen, J. C., Hutchison, E. R., Seifer, R., Lagasse, L. L., Durston, S., & Casey, B. J. (2009). Functional MRI and response inhibition in children exposed to cocaine in utero. Preliminary findings.. Developmental Neuroscience, 31 (1-2), 159-66. doi:10.1159/000207503
  • Myers, E. B., Blumstein, S. E., Walsh, E., & Eliassen, J. (2009). Inferior frontal regions underlie the perception of phonetic category invariance.. Psychological Science, 20 (7), 895-903. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.2009.02380.x
  • Zhang, F., Eliassen, J., Anderson, J., Scheifele, P., & Brown, D. (2009). The time course of the amplitude and latency in the auditory late response evoked by repeated tone bursts.. Journal of the American Academy of Audiology, 20 (4), 239-50.
  • Strakowski, S. M., Adler, C. M., Cerullo, M. A., Eliassen, J. C., Lamy, M., Fleck, D. E., Lee, J., & Delbello, M. P. (2008). MRI brain activation in first-episode bipolar mania during a response inhibition task.. Early Intervention in Psychiatry, 2 (4), 225-233. doi:10.1111/j.1751-7893.2008.00082.x
  • Eliassen, J. C., Holland, S. K., & Szaflarski, J. P. (2008). Compensatory brain activation for recognition memory in patients with medication-resistant epilepsy.. Epilepsy & Behavior : E & B, 13 (3), 463-9. doi:10.1016/j.yebeh.2008.06.011
  • Harnish, S. M., Neils-Strunjas, J., Lamy, M., & Eliassen, J. C. (2008). Use of fMRI in the study of chronic aphasia recovery after therapy: a case study.. Topics in Stroke Rehabilitation, 15 (5), 468-83. doi:10.1310/tsr1505-468
  • Eliassen, J. C., Boespflug, E. L., Lamy, M., Allendorfer, J., Chu, W., & Szaflarski, J. P. (2008). Brain-mapping techniques for evaluating poststroke recovery and rehabilitation: a review.. Topics in Stroke Rehabilitation, 15 (5), 427-50. doi:10.1310/tsr1505-427
  • Fleck, D. E., Nandagopal, J., Cerullo, M. A., Eliassen, J. C., DelBello, M. P., Adler, C. M., & Strakowski, S. M. (2008). Morphometric magnetic resonance imaging in psychiatry.. Topics in Magnetic Resonance Imaging : TMRI, 19 (2), 131-42. doi:10.1097/RMR.0b013e3181808152
  • Cerullo, M. A., Adler, C. M., Strakowski, S. M., Eliassen, J. C., Nasrallah, H. A., & Nasrallah, A. T. (2007). Memantine normalizes brain activity in the inferior frontal gyrus: a controlled pilot fMRI study.. Schizophrenia Research, 97 (1-3), 294-6. doi:10.1016/j.schres.2007.07.034
  • Kim, J. A., Eliassen, J. C., & Sanes, J. N. (2005). Movement quantity and frequency coding in human motor areas.. Journal of Neurophysiology, 94 (4), 2504-11. doi:10.1152/jn.01047.2004
  • Strakowski, S. M., Adler, C. M., Holland, S. K., Mills, N. P., DelBello, M. P., & Eliassen, J. C. (2005). Abnormal FMRI brain activation in euthymic bipolar disorder patients during a counting Stroop interference task.. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 162 (9), 1697-705. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.162.9.1697
  • Herz, R. S., Eliassen, J., Beland, S., & Souza, T. (2004). Neuroimaging evidence for the emotional potency of odor-evoked memory.. Neuropsychologia, 42 (3), 371-8.
  • Eliassen, J. C., Souza, T., & Sanes, J. N. (2003). Experience-dependent activation patterns in human brain during visual-motor associative learning.. The Journal of Neuroscience : the Official Journal of the Society For Neuroscience, 23 (33), 10540-7.
  • Rissman, J., Eliassen, J. C., & Blumstein, S. E. (2003). An event-related FMRI investigation of implicit semantic priming.. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 15 (8), 1160-75. doi:10.1162/089892903322598120
  • Acuna, B. D., Eliassen, J. C., Donoghue, J. P., & Sanes, J. N. (2002). Frontal and parietal lobe activation during transitive inference in humans.. Cerebral Cortex (New York, N.Y. : 1991), 12 (12), 1312-21.
  • Eliassen, J. C., Souza, T., & Sanes, J. N. (2001). Human brain activation accompanying explicitly directed movement sequence learning.. Experimental Brain Research. Experimentelle Hirnforschung. Exp & #233;rimentation C & #233;r & #233;brale, 141 (3), 269-80. doi:10.1007/s002210100822
  • Eliassen, J. C., Baynes, K., & Gazzaniga, M. S. (2000). Anterior and posterior callosal contributions to simultaneous bimanual movements of the hands and fingers.. Brain : A Journal of Neurology, 123 Pt 12, 2501-11.
  • Eliassen, J. C., Baynes, K., & Gazzaniga, M. S. (1999). Direction information coordinated via the posterior third of the corpus callosum during bimanual movements.. Experimental Brain Research. Experimentelle Hirnforschung. Exp & #233;rimentation C & #233;r & #233;brale, 128 (4), 573-7.
  • Baynes, K., Eliassen, J. C., Lutsep, H. L., & Gazzaniga, M. S. (1998). Modular organization of cognitive systems masked by interhemispheric integration.. Science (New York, N.Y.), 280 (5365), 902-5.
  • Gazzaniga, M. S., Eliassen, J. C., Nisenson, L., Wessinger, C. M., Fendrich, R., & Baynes, K. (1996). Collaboration between the hemispheres of a callosotomy patient. Emerging right hemisphere speech and the left hemisphere interpreter.. Brain : A Journal of Neurology, 119 ( Pt 4), 1255-62.
  • Miller, M. B., Fendrich, R., Eliassen, J. C., Demirel, S., & Gazzaniga, M. S. (1996). Transcranial magnetic stimulation: delays in visual suppression due to luminance changes.. Neuroreport, 7 (11), 1740-4.
  • Stone, V. E., Nisenson, L., Eliassen, J. C., & Gazzaniga, M. S. (1996). Left hemisphere representations of emotional facial expressions.. Neuropsychologia, 34 (1), 23-9.
  • Rajpara, S. M., Garcia, P. D., Roberts, R., Eliassen, J. C., Owens, D. F., Maltby, D., Myers, R. M., & Mayeri, E. (1992). Identification and molecular cloning of a neuropeptide Y homolog that produces prolonged inhibition in Aplysia neurons.. Neuron, 9 (3), 505-13.
  • Eliassen, J. C., Rajpara, S. M., & Mayeri, E. (1991). Isolation and partial characterization of neuropeptides that mimic prolonged inhibition produced by bag cell neurons in Aplysia.. Journal of Neurobiology, 22 (7), 698-706. doi:10.1002/neu.480220705
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Recent Awards/Honors
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  • Fellow, ERP Bootcamp, University of California, Davis.,2008
  • NARSAD Young Investigator Award.“Identifying a neurochemical basis for fMRI abnormalities in Bipolar Disorder with phosphorus MRSI.”,2006
  • Faculty Development Council, Interdisciplinary Grants, University of Cincinnati..“Creating a UC Core of Multi-Modal Neuroimaging Researchers and Teachers”.,2005
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More Information
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  • Future Projects

    We use functional, anatomical, and spectroscopic MRI techniques and are working to incorporate brain electrical recordings, such as EEG and Event-Related Potentials, to study brain activity with multi-modal imaging techniques.

    See: http://www.cir.uc.edu/~jeliassen/
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