Dr. Picard is a pioneer and has contributed to lay the foundation for the emerging field of “mitochondrial psychobiology.” Mitochondria are organelles and the primary source of energy that sustains our life. His major research contributions reach across basic science and translational domains. He initially developed novel imaging methods to visualize and quantify the morphology and physical interactions of mitochondria in brain and muscle cells, including in human tissues from the clinic. Through this ground-breaking work, Dr. Picard has showed how mitochondria communicate with each other, and defined how defective mitochondria behave inside the cell in disease and aging. He has also used mouse genetics to show that mitochondrial function regulates neuroendocrine, metabolic, and brain gene expression responses to acute stress, uncovering the specific influence of mitochondria across multiple stress-related systems. To translate his work to the clinic, Dr. Picard developed a novel platform for mitochondrial phenotyping, deployed in human blood leukocytes, and provided with his colleague Dr. Epel evidence of a directional effect of stress and mood on mitochondrial health in humans – the hint of a mind-mitochondria connection. His team together with Dr. Marsland and Dr. Kaufman also showed how acute psychological stress can cause the release of mitochondrial DNA into the serum, and used machine learning to map individualized psychobiological predictors of this response in healthy women and men. Dr. Picard’s group has also developed a new quantitative hair imaging method, which demonstrated that age-related graying is temporarily reversible and linked to psychological stress.
Dr. Picard’s research has important implications for how we teach and practice medicine, and has been featured on several platforms. First, his studies demonstrating that the mitochondrial genome is released during psychological stress were featured in Scientific American to help raise awareness about stress and depression. Second, Dr. Picard’s and his collaborator Dr. Sandi’s research on mitochondrial energetics, stress, and the brain was the topic of a piece in the widely read Quanta Magazine, painting a simple bridge between psychosocial experiences and biological processes within mitochondria. Third, his innovative work describing a quantitative link between stress and hair graying was also featured on several platforms including the BBC radio World Show, the Daily Mail, and The New Scientist. Dr. Picard is an inspirational speaker and has given public science lectures at multiple international venues and been interviewed on popular podcasts, to explain how energy flow in our mitochondria and in our brain may be linked to the flow of our thoughts and to our behaviors.