Beatriz Luna, PhD

  • Staunton Professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics
  • Director of the Laboratory for Neurocognitive Development
  • Professor of Psychology
  • Faculty in the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition

Education & Training

  • Graduate School – University of Pittsburgh – PhD – Developmental Psychology
  • Post-Doctoral – Western Psychiatric Institute & Clinic – Neurobehavioral Studies

Research Grants

NIH Grants:  R01, R03, P50

Research Summary

Dr. Luna’s studies characterize normative changes in brain function, connectivity, and neurochemistry that support cognitive development through the adolescent period. Her studies have a special focus on the adolescent period of development given that this is a time of increased vulnerabilities to the emergence of mental illness and there is increase mortality due to heightened risk-taking behaviors. Her research uses multimodal neuroimaging methods including functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI), Positron Emission Tomography (PET), Electroencephalography (EEG), and Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopic Imaging (MRSI) to delineate age changes in brain function, structure, connectivity, and chemistry. The findings from her studies have led to influential models of development indicating that prefrontal executive systems reach a critical threshold of maturation in adolescence but in the context of elevated subcortical motivational processes demarcating its phenotype. Her current work using in-vivo human MRSI and PET neuroimaging investigates age-related (10-30-year-olds) changes in the neurotransmitters GABA, glutamate, and dopamine and their effects on cognitive development using behavioral tasks, fMRI and EEG. These approaches aim to construct a normative template for development, critical for discerning impaired development and mental illness and importantly how trajectories may be corrected. Dr. Luna has published over a hundred peer-reviewed articles in addition to chapters and theoretical papers as well as being the recipient of Presidential Early Career Award in Science and Engineering. Dr. Luna, who won the Mentor Award in her department, is committed to having a vibrant laboratory environment that supports creativity and collaboration amongst graduate students, medical students, postdoctoral fellows, and junior faculty with a commitment to supporting the development of emerging scientists.

Representative Publications

  1. Larsen B, Luna B. Adolescence as a neurobiological critical period for the development of higher-order cognition. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2018 Nov;94:179-195. Doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2018.09.005. Epub 2018 Sep 7. Review. PubMed PMID: 30201220.
  2. Hallquist MN, Geier CF, Luna B. Incentives facilitate developmental improvement in inhibitory control by modulating control-related networks. Neuroimage. 2018 May 15;172:369-380. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2018.01.045. Epub 2018 Jan 31. PMCID: PMC5910226.
  3. Murty V, Shah H, Montez D, Foran W, Calabro F, Luna B. Age-related trajectories of functional coupling between the VTA and nucleus accumbens depend on motivational state. 2018 J Neurosci. Aug 22;38(34):7420-7427. doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3508-17.2018. Epub 2018 Jul 20. PubMed PMID: 30030394.
  4. Larsen B, Verstynen TD, Yeh FC, Luna B. Developmental Changes in the Integration of Affective and Cognitive Corticostriatal Pathways are Associated with Reward-Driven Behavior. Cereb Cortex. 2017 Jul 5:1-12. doi:10.1093/cercor/bhx162. [Epub ahead of print] PMID: 29106535.
  5. Jalbrzikowski M, Larsen B, Hallquist MN, Foran W, Calabro F, Luna B. Development of White Matter Microstructure and Intrinsic Functional Connectivity Between the Amygdala and Ventromedial Prefrontal Cortex: Associations with Anxiety and Depression. Biol Psychiatry. 2017 Oct 1;82(7):511-521. doi:10.1016/j.biopsych.2017.01.008. Epub 2017 Jan 17. PMCID: PMC5522367.
  6. Montez DF, Calabro FJ, Luna B. The expression of established cognitive brain states stabilizes with working memory development. Elife. 2017 Aug 19;6. pii: e25606. doi: 10.7554/eLife.25606. PMCID: PMC5578740