Alexandra Moussa-Tooks

Alexandra Moussa-Tooks

Assistant Professor, Psychological and Brain Sciences

**Reviewing graduate and post-doc applications for Fall, 2024**


  • Ph.D., Clinical Psychology & Neuroscience, Indiana University Bloomington, 2021
  • B.A., Neuroscience, Vanderbilt University, 2015

Areas of Study

  • Clinical Psychological Science
  • Neuroscience Science
  • Cognitive Science
  • Translational Science

Research Topics/Goals

  • Which sensorimotor processes are disturbed in psychosis?
  • How do they relate to and shape neural networks, especially the cerebellum and its connections?
  • How do they drive hallmark symptoms of psychosis and related psychopathology?
  • How do these systems become perturbed?
  • How can we intervene?


Research Summary

Research Area #1: Cerebellar Contributions to Sensorimotor Disturbances in Psychosis

Sensorimotor function is aberrant in psychosis, with 60-80% of patients being affected (Harvey et al., 2013; Kaikoushi et al., 2021). A notable feature in the field’s current understanding of the developmental processes in psychotic disorders is the presence of motor abnormalities before the onset of the disorder (Mittal and Walker, 2007; Mittal and Walker, 2009). Features in the motor system may serve as fundamental metrics of broader dysfunction in psychosis that can be traced longitudinally to understand risk of onset and symptom relapse.

In the lab, we utilize cerebellar and other motor tasks that capitalize on core processes (i.e., model prediction, execution, and updating in the motor system) while extending to other functions (e.g., cognitive prediction, decision, and belief updating), which can be useful in interrogating circuits vulnerable to the onset and maintenance of psychosis. In fact, many of these processes are critical building blocks for the success of higher-level cognitive functioning, such as learning, visuospatial processing, and executive functioning as well, giving us leads into the driving processes and neural circuits of psychopathology.

  • Moussa-Tooks, A., Liu, J., Armstrong, K., Rogers, B., Woodward, N., & Heckers, S. (in press) Cerebellar Effects on Abnormal Psychomotor Function are Mediated by Processing Speed in Psychosis Spectrum. Cerebellum.
  • Moussa-Tooks, A., Huang, A., Rogers, B., Sheffield, J., Heckers, S., & Woodward, N. (2022) Cognitive Ability and Cerebellar Volume in Psychosis. Biological Psychiatry. doi:10.1016/j.biopsych.2022.03.013; PMID: 35680432; PMCID: PMC9378489
  • Moussa-Tooks, A., Kim, D., *Bartolomeo, L., Purcell, J., Bolbecker, A., Newman, S., O'Donnell, B., & Hetrick, W. (2019) Impaired effective connectivity in schizophrenia during continuation of cerebellar- mediated sensorimotor synchronization. Schizophrenia Bulletin, 45(3), 531-541. doi:10.1093/schbul/sby064; PMID: 29800417; PMCID: PMC6483568
  • Lundin, N., Kim, D. J., Tullar, R., Moussa-Tooks, A., Kent, J., Newman, S., Purcell, J., Bolbecker, A., O'Donnell, B., Hetrick W (2021). Cerebellar Activation Deficits During Delay Eyeblink Conditioning in Schizophrenia. Schizophrenia Bulletin Open, 2(1). doi:10.1093/schizbullopen/sgab040; PMID: 34541537; PMCID: PMC8443466
  • Kim, D. J., Moussa-Tooks, A., Bolbecker, A., Apthorp, D., Newman, S., O'Donnell, B., Hetrick W. (2020) Cerebellar-Cortical Dysconnectivity in Resting-State Associated with Sensorimotor Tasks in Schizophrenia. Human Brain Mapping. doi:10.1002/hbm.25002; PMID: 32250008; PMCID: PMC7336143

*Asterisks indicate advisees.

Research Area #2: Early Life Insults and Atypical Cerebellar Development.

Early life stress (e.g., abuse, neglect, poverty) is a major risk factor for atypical neurodevelopment, with long-term impacts on brain anatomy and biochemistry, behavioral and cognitive domains (e.g., learning and memory), and psychological domains. Such factors increase psychosis risk 2-5 fold, thereby implicating stress as an important contributor to psychosis. One possible mediator of these effects is the cerebellum, a neural structure that, while small in volume, has been estimated to contain upwards of 80% of the neurons in the human brain and cover 80% of the surface area of the cerebral cortex. The lab uses forward and reverse translational tools including animal models and large open-access datasets to clarify how early developmental insults impact the cerebellum and the functions it supports.

  • Moussa-Tooks, A., Hetrick, W., Green, J. (2020) Differential Effects of Two Early Life Stress Paradigms on Cerebellar-Dependent Delay Eyeblink Conditioning. Neurobiology of Stress, 13. doi:10.1016/j.ynstr.2020.100242; PMID: 33344698; PMCID: PMC7739029
  • Moussa-Tooks, A., *Larson, E., *Gimeno, A., Leishman, E., *Bartolomeo, L., Bradshaw, H., O’Donnell, B., Mackie, K., Hetrick, W. (2020) Long-Term Aberrations to Cerebellar Endocannabinoids Induced by Early Life Stress. Scientific Reports, 10(1). doi:10.1038/s41598-020-64075-4; PMID: 32350298; PMCID: PMC7190863
  • Nackenoff, A., Moussa-Tooks, A., McMeekin, A., Veenstra-VanderWeele, J., Blakely, R. (2016) Essential contributions of serotonin transporter inhibition in the acute and chronic actions of fluoxetine and citalopram in the SERT Met172 mouse. Neuropsychopharmacology, 41(7), 1733-1741. doi:10.1038/npp.2015.335; PMID: 26514584; PMCID: PMC4869040

*Asterisks indicate advisees.

Research Area #3: Demographic Disparities and Individual Differences in Assessment, Evaluation, Conceptualization, and Treatment of the Psychosis-Spectrum.

Our work is limited by the reliability and validity of our constructs. A critical area of need is assessing the measurement and development of diagnostic and behavioral constructs and refining these assessments with the goal of (1) decreasing heterogeneity and over-inclusion in diagnosis and (2) improving the dimensional and transdiagnostic utility of current measures. An especially promising area of interest has been the influence of demographic disparities in assessment. Our work has been focused on understanding bias in self-report assessment tools of psychosis symptomology, with striking implications for research and clinical assessment.

  • Moussa-Tooks, A., Sheffield, J., Freeman, D., & Brinen, A. (2023) Disentangling the Consequences of Systemic Racism and Clinical Paranoia to Promote Effectiveness of a Cognitive-Behavioral Intervention for Persecutory Delusions in Minoritized Individuals: A Case-Example. Clinical Case Studies. doi: 10.1177/15346501231190920
  • *Wolny, J., Moussa-Tooks, A., Bailey, A., & Hetrick, W. (2023) Race and Self-Reported Paranoia: Increased Item Endorsement on Subscales of the SPQ. Schizophrenia Research: Psychotic Disorders and Race. doi:10.1016/j.schres.2021.11.034; PMID: 34895794
  • Moussa-Tooks, A., Bailey, A., Bolbecker, A., Viken, R., O'Donnell, B., & Hetrick, W. (2020) Bifactor Structure of the Schizotypal Personality Questionnaire Across the Schizotypy Spectrum. Journal of Personality Disorders, 34, 466-491. doi:10.1521/pedi_2020_34_466; PMID: 32039649; PMCID: PMC7415588 
  • Bailey, A., Moussa-Tooks, A., Klein, S., Sponheim, S., & Hetrick, W. (2021) The Sensory Gating Inventory-Brief. Schizophrenia Bulletin Open. doi:10.1093/schizbullopen/sgab019; PMID: 34414372; PMCID: PMC8369251

*Asterisks indicate advisees.

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