Dr. VanElzakker received a master's degree in behavioral neuroscience at the University of Colorado, working in Dr. Robert Spencer's neuroendocrinology laboratory, and a PhD in experimental clinical psychology at Tufts University, working in Dr. Lisa Shin's psychopathology neuroimaging laboratory. His postdoctoral fellowship is at Massachusetts General Hospital/ Harvard Medical School, at the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging, in the Division of Neurotherapeutics.

Dr. VanElzakker is interested in uncovering the mechanisms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and of myalgic encephalomyelitis - also known as chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS).

His PTSD research uses functional and structural brain imaging, behavioral attention tasks, blood, and genetic data to investigate what makes some individuals vulnerable to PTSD following trauma. He is interested in using non-invasive electroceutical medical devices to enhance safety learning, which may eventually serve as an adjunct to enhance exposure-based therapy for PTSD.

His ME/CFS research uses functional and structural brain imaging to look for abnormal patterns in brain metabolism and inflammation in this patient population. This research focuses on dysfunction at the intersection of the nervous and immune systems and posits that ME/CFS may be what happens when the nervous system detects an exaggerated and ongoing innate immune response. He is interested in using non-invasive electroceutical medical devices to enhance the anti-inflammatory vagus nerve reflex.

To support his research, join a study, or if you are an undergraduate who is interested in joining the lab, please get in touch.


  • Master's, University of Colorado - Boulder, 2010
  • PhD, Tufts University, 2015


Psychopathology Research Methods

Selected Publications and Presentations

Dahlgren, M. K., Laifer, L. M., VanElzakker, M., Offringa, R., Hughes, K. C., Staples-Bradley, L. K., Dubois, S. J., Lasko, N. B., Hinojosa, C.A., Orr, S. P., Pitman, R. K., & Shin, L. M. (in press). Diminished medial prefrontal cortex activation during the recollection of stressful events is an acquired characteristic of PTSD. Psychological Medicine.

Marin, M-F., Song, H., VanElzakker, M. B., Staples-Bradley, L. K., Linnman, C., Pace-Schott, E. F., Lasko, N. B., Shin, L. M., Milad, M. R. (2016). Resting metabolism in the fear neural network predicts extinction recall activations and clinical measures in trauma-exposed individuals. American Journal of Psychiatry. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2015.14111460

VanElzakker M. B. (2016). The Neuroscience of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In D. Pfaff & N. Volkow (Eds), Neuroscience in the 21st Century. Springer-Verlag. doi:10.1007/978-1-4614-6434-1_161-2. (Invited book chapter)

VanElzakker M. B., Dahlgren, M. K., Davis F. C., Dubois, S. J., Shin L. M. (2014). From Pavlov to PTSD: The extinction of conditioned fear in rodents, humans, and in anxiety disorders. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory 113, 3-18. PubMed ID: 24321650. doi: 10.1016/j.nlm.2013.11.014 (Invited Review)

Offringa, R., Brohawn, K.H., Staples, L.K., Dubois, S.J., Hughes, K.C., Pfaff, D.L., VanElzakker, M.B., Davis, F.C., Shin, L.M. (2013). Diminished rostral anterior cingulate cortex activation during trauma-unrelated emotional interference in PTSD. Biology of Mood & Anxiety Disorders, 3, 10.

Shin, L.M., Davis, F.C., VanElzakker, M.B., Dahlgren, M.K., Dubois, S.J. (2013). Neuroimaging predictors of treatment response in anxiety disorders. Biology of Mood & Anxiety Disorders, 3, 15. PMCID: PMC3750275

VanElzakker, M. B. (2013). Chronic fatigue syndrome from vagus nerve infection: A psychoneuroimmunological hypothesis. Medical Hypotheses 81 (3), 414-423. PubMed ID: 23790471. doi: 10.1016/j.mehy.2013.05.034

Hayes, J. P., VanElzakker M. B., Shin L. M. (2012). Emotion and cognition interactions in PTSD: A review of neurocognitive and neuroimaging studies. Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience, 6 (89). PubMed ID: 23087624. doi: 10.3389/fnint.2012.00089

VanElzakker M. B., Zoladz P. R., Thompson V. M., Park C. R., Halonen J. D., Spencer R. L., Diamond D. M. (2011). Influence of pre-training predator stress on the expression of c-fos mRNA in the hippocampus, amygdala and striatum following long-term spatial memory retrieval. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, 5 (30), 1-13. PubMed ID: 21738501. doi: 10.3389/fnbeh.2011.00030

VanElzakker M. B., Fevurly R. D., Breindel T., Spencer R. L. (2008). Environmental novelty is associated with a selective increase in Fos expression in the output elements of the hippocampal formation and the perirhinal cortex. Learning & Memory, 15 (12), 899-908. PubMed ID: 19050162. doi: 10.1101/lm.1196508

VanElzakker M. B., O'Reilly R. C. & Rudy J. W. (2003). Transitivity, flexibility, conjunctive representations and the hippocampus: I: An empirical analysis. Hippocampus, 13 (3), 292-298. PubMed ID: 12722974. doi: 10.1002/hipo.10083