Jessica Nielson, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry


Research Interests:

The overarching purpose of the Nielson lab is to understand and treat trauma. Research projects in the Nielson lab utilize a multidisciplinary approach, merging the fields of neurobiology, psychiatry and informatics to identify more precise "bio-types" of trauma psychopathology than traditional diagnostic criteria, and potential novel targets for treatment. We use established and emerging machine learning methods with multi-modal data spanning across a diverse range of diagnostic categories for neuropsychiatric disorders. Our approach can be used to run hypotheses on in silico models to understand the complexity involved in these disorders. An advantage of such approaches is the minimization for the need to test hypotheses in animal models (in vivo). Dr. Nielson received an Early Stage Investigator (ESI) award from NIMH to apply these methods to large datasets from trauma-exposed patients to identify and validate dimensions of post-traumatic stress (PTS), relevant biological predictors, and precision treatment response trajectories.

Other areas of focus in the Nielson lab are dedicated to psychedelic neuroscience research. Dr. Nielson has been collecting data through an anonymous online survey to assess benefits and risks of ayahuasca use in naturalistic settings to treat symptoms of trauma. Dr. Nielson is also conducting research into the neurological mechanisms of altered states of consciousness and their role in promoting neuroplasticity and wellness in healthy research participants. This work is funded by the newly created Psychedelic-Assisted THerapy (PATH) Fund through the UMN Foundation, which was created thanks to a generous donation from the local community. We recently received FDA approval to conduct a pilot study with psilocybin to investigate the neural mechanisms of visual perception and expectation, which we plan to begin enrollment in Spring of 2020. These, and other data, are part of a larger network of data supporting the potential for psychedelic therapies and experiences to promote wellness across a diverse range of mental health disorders.

Selected Publications:

  • Huie JR, Ferguson AR, Kyritsis N, Pan JZ, Irvine KA, Nielson JL, Schupp PG, Oldham MC, Gensel JC, Lin A, Segal MR, Ratan RR, Bresnahan JC, Beattie MS. Machine intelligence identifies soluble TNFa as a therapeutic target for spinal cord injury. Sci Rep. 2021 Feb 9;11(1):3442.
  • Zou LF, Pierce B, Nielson JL. A multi-modal assessment of clinical predictors for traumatic brain injury end-points. J Neurotrauma. 2021 Jan 15;38(2):261-271.
  • Nielson JL, Cooper SR, Seabury S, Finazzi S, Luciani D, Fabio A, Temkin N, Ferguson AR. The TRACK-TBI investigators. Statistical guidelines for handling missing values in traumatic brain injury clinical research. J Neurotrauma. 2021;38(18):2530-2537.
  • Nielson JL, Megler JD, Cavnar, C. A qualitative assessment of risks and benefits of ayahuasca for trauma survivors; in Ayahuasca Healing and Science. Chapter 5. 2020.
  • Fouad K, Bixby JL, Callahan A, Grethe JS, Jakeman LB, Lemmon VP, Magnuson DS, Martone ME, Nielson JL, Schwab J, Taylor-Burds C, Tetzlaff W, Torres-Espín A, Ferguson AR. FAIR SCI Ahead: the evolution of the Open Data Commons for preclinical spinal cord injury research (ODC-SCI. org). J Neurotrauma. 2020;37(6):831-838.
  • Hirschi R, Hawryluk GWJ, Nielson JL, Huie JR, Zimmermann LL, Saigal R, Ding Q, Ferguson AR, Manley GT. Analysis of high-frequency PbtO2 measures in traumatic brain injury: insights into the treatment threshold. J Neurosurg. 2018 Oct 1:1-11.
  • Yue JK, Robinson C, Winkler E, Ferguson AR, McAllister T, Rosand J, Lingsma H, Sharma S, Sorani M, Cooper S, Nielson JL, Satris G, Vassar M, Korley F, Wang K, Yuh EL, Mukherjee P, Valadka A, Okonkwo D, Diaz-Arrastia R, Manley GT. Apolipoprotein E episilon 4 (APOE-ε4) genotype is associated with decreased six-month verbal memory performance after mild traumatic brain injury: A TRACK-TBI Pilot study. Brain and Behavior. 2017; 7:e00791.
  • Callahan A, Anderson KD, Beattie MS, Bixby JL, Ferguson AR, Fouad K, Jakeman LB, Nielson JL, Popovich PG, Schwab JM. Developing a data sharing community for spinal cord injury research. Experimental neurology 2017; 295: 135-143.
  • Nielson JL, Cooper SR, Yue JK, Sorani MD, Inoue T, Yuh EL, Mukherjee P, Petrossian TC, Paquette J, Lum PY, Carlsson GE, Vassar MJ, Lingsma HF, Gordon WA, Valadka AB, Okonkwo DO, Manley GT, Ferguson AR, Investigators T-T. Uncovering precision phenotype-biomarker associations in traumatic brain injury using topological data analysis. PLoS One. 2017;12(3):e0169490.
  • Friedli L, Rosenzweig ES, Barraud Q, Schubert M, Dominici N, Awai L, Nielson JL, Musienko P, Nout-Lomas Y, Zhong H, Zdunowski S, Roy RR, Strand SC, van den Brand R, Havton LA, Beattie MS, Bresnahan JC, Bezard E, Bloch J, Edgerton VR, Ferguson AR, Curt A, Tuszynski MH, Courtine G. Pronounced species divergence in corticospinal tract reorganization and functional recovery after lateralized spinal cord injury favors primates. Sci Transl Med. 2015;7(302):302ra134.
  • Nielson JL, Haefeli J, Salegio EA, Liu AW, Guandique CF, Stuck ED, Hawbecker S, Moseanko R, Strand SC, Zdunowski S, Brock JH, Roy RR, Rosenzweig ES, Nout-Lomas YS, Courtine G, Havton LA, Steward O, Reggie Edgerton V, Tuszynski MH, Beattie MS, Bresnahan JC, Ferguson AR. Leveraging biomedical informatics for assessing plasticity and repair in primate spinal cord injury. Brain Res. 2015;1619:124-38.
  • Nielson JL, Paquette J, Liu AW, Guandique CF, Tovar CA, Inoue T, Irvine KA, Gensel JC, Kloke J, Petrossian TC, Lum PY, Carlsson GE, Manley GT, Young W, Beattie MS, Bresnahan JC, Ferguson AR. Topological data analysis for discovery in preclinical spinal cord injury and traumatic brain injury. Nat Commun. 2015;6:8581.
  • Nielson JL, Megler JD. Ayahuasca as a candidate therapy for PTSD. In: Labate BC, Cavnar C, editors. The Therapeutic Use of Ayahuasca. Berlin Hiedelberg: Springer; 2014.
  • Ferguson AR, Nielson JL, Cragin MH, Bandrowski AE, Martone ME. Big data from small data: data-sharing in the 'long tail' of neuroscience. Nat Neurosci. 2014;17(11):1442-1447.
  • Nielson JL, Guandique CF, Liu AW, Burke DA, Lash AT, Moseanko R, Hawbecker S, Strand SC, Zdunowski S, Irvine KA, Brock JH, Nout-Lomas YS, Gensel JC, Anderson KD, Segal MR, Rosenzweig ES, Magnuson DS, Whittemore SR, McTigue DM, Popovich PG, Rabchevsky AG, Scheff SW, Steward O, Courtine G, Edgerton VR, Tuszynski MH, Beattie MS, Bresnahan JC, Ferguson AR. Development of a database for translational spinal cord injury research. J Neurotrauma. 2014;31(21):1789-1799.
Picture of Jessica Nielson