Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona
Esther Martinez is an associate professor of the Department of Psychiatry and Forensic Medicine at Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. She obtained her Bachelor degree in Psychology from Universitat de Barcelona in 2005 and received her PhD in Psychiatry from Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona in 2012. She did a predoctoral stay at Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm (2010). Her research focuses on the study of fear and anxiety and emotional learning (from rats to humans). In particular, she is interested in how stressors can modulate fear conditioning via HPA axis dysregulation or amygdala dysfunction. As a therapist, she has been focused on anxiety disorders and stress. She has co-authored more than 15 scientific articles and has six publications in first quartile journals. She has also coorganised several scientific conferences.
The focus of her research is to study the anxiety. Not only when it is conceived as state or even a disorder, but also as a trait. For instance, some individuals seem to be more vulnerable to a threat than others, with a highly responsive HPA system, e.g. releasing more corticosterone “the stress hormone” to the bloodstream and showing a “freezer” behavioral profile. In the animal laboratory of Dr. Alberto Fernández Teruel there is a great example of this phenomenon: the Roman Low Avoidance rat, which was psychogenetically selected for its high anxiety levels. To what extent does anxiety affect other processes like cognition and learning and other body functions (immune system)? For her doctoral thesis, there were found some associations between levels of stress, behavioral anxiety and susceptibility to neuroinflammation, showing the intricate relationship among all the variables. After her early-researcher stage, at the prospect of performing translational studies, she enrolled the human laboratory of Dr. Rafael Torrubia, aiming to study the psychological processes affected by stress and their neurobiological bases, mainly in children and young adults with risk factors.