Sandra Sephton, PhD

Associate Professor, Psychological & Brain Sciences

Associate Scientist, Brown Cancer Center

Portrait of Sandra Sephton

Lutz Hall 442

(502) 852-1166

(502) 852-8904


Lutz Hall, 426/427/428

(502) 852-5562 (research lab)

(502) 852-2493 (wet lab)

Biobehavioral Research Lab


  • University of California, Davis, B.S., 1985, Animal Science / Pre-Veterinary Medicine
  • Brigham Young University, M.S., 1989, Human Physiology & Anatomy
  • Brigham Young University, Ph.D., 1995, Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Stanford University, Post-doc, 1995-99, Fellowship in Biobehavioral Oncology

Research Interest

Biological mediators of psychosocial effects in health, specifically psychoneuroimmune relationships. Contributions include data showing the diurnal cortisol rhythm is prognostic for early breast cancer mortality and further studies on circadian effects in tumor progression. Data from the Biobehavioral Research Lab supports the work of others suggesting that childhood trauma can result in adult neuroendocrine dysfunction, and that social support, emotional expression, and existential or spiritual coping styles may protect normal endocrine and immune function in individuals who have experienced trauma, cancer, or chronic illness. The Biobehavioral lab is investigating a model of circadian disruption as a mediator of biobehavioral effects on tumor progression and exploring Mindfulness Meditation as an intervention to alleviate suffering in chronic illness.

Selected Publications

  • Spiegel, D., Sephton, S.E., Terr, A.I., and Stites, D.P.. Effects of psychosocial treatment in prolonging cancer survival may be mediated by neuroimmmune pathways. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 840; 674-83 (1998).
  • Sephton, S.E., Sapolsky, R., Kraemer, H.C., and Spiegel, D.. Diurnal cortisol rhythm as a predictor of breast cancer survival. Journal of the National Cancer Institute 92(12), 994-1000 (2000).
  • Turner-Cobb, J.M., Sephton, S.E., Koopman, C., Blake-Mortimer, J., and Spiegel, D.. Social support and salivary cortisol in women with metastatic breast cancer. Psychosomatic Medicine 62(3), 337-345 (2000).
  • Sephton, S.E., Koopman, C., Schaal, M., Thoreson, C., and Spiegel, D.. Spiritual expression and immune status in women with metastatic breast cancer: an exploratory study. The Breast Journal. 7(5); 345-353 (2001).
  • Spiegel, D. and Sephton, S.. Psychoneuroimmune and endocrine pathways in cancer: effects of stress and support. Seminars in Clinical Neuropsychiatry, 6(4):252-265 (2001).
  • **Weissbecker, I., Salmon, P., Studts, J., Floyd, A., Dedert, E., and Sephton, S.. Sense of coherence in women with fibromyalgia is enhanced by a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program. Journal of Clinical Psychology in Medical Settings. 9(4); 297-307, (2002).
  • Koopman, C., Nouriani, B., Erickson, V., Anupindi, R., Butler, L., Bachmann, M., Sephton, S., and Spiegel, D.. Sleep disturbances in women with metastatic breast cancer. The Breast Journal. 8(6); 362-70 (2002).
  • Spiegel, D. and Sephton, S.E.. Re: Night shift work, light at night, and risk of breast cancer. Journal of the National Cancer Institute. 94(7): 530, discussion 532-3, (2002).
  • Sephton, S.E. and Spiegel, D.. Circadian disruption in cancer: A neuroendocrine-immune pathway from stress to disease? Brain, Behavior and Immunity 17(5): 321-328 (2003).
  • Koopman, C., Sephton, S.E., Abercrombie, H., Classen, C., Butler, L., Gore-Felton, C., Borggrefe, A., and Spiegel, D.. Dissociative symptoms and cortisol responses to recounting traumatic experiences among childhood sexual abuse survivors with PTSD. Journal of Trauma and Dissociation 4(4), 29-46 (2003).
  • Sephton, S., Studts, J., Hoover, K., Weissbecker, I., Lynch, G., Ho, I., McGuffin, S., and Salmon, P.. Biological and psychological factors associated with memory function in fibromyalgia syndrome. Health Psychology 22(6), 592–597 (2003).
  • Abercrombie, H.C., Giese-Davis, J., Sephton, S.E., Epel, E.S., Turner-Cobb, J.M., and Spiegel, D.. Flattened Cortisol Rhythms in Metastatic Breast Cancer Patients. Psychoneuroendocrinology 29, 1082-1092 (2004).
  • **Dedert, E.A., Studts, J.L., Weissbecker, I., Salmon, P.G., Banis, P.L., and Sephton, S.E.. Religiosity may Help Preserve the Cortisol Rhythm in Women with Stress-Related Illness. International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine 34(1): 61-77 (2004).
  • Blake-Mortimer, J.S., Sephton, S.E., Carlson, R.W., Stites, D. and Spiegel, D. Cytotoxic T lymphocyte counts and survival time in women with metastatic breast cancer. The Breast Journal 10(3); 195-199 (2004).
  • Turner-Cobb, J.M., Koopman, C., Rabinowitz, J.D., Terr, A.I., Sephton, S.E., and Spiegel, D.. The interaction of social network size and stressful life events predict delayed-type hypersensitivity among women with metastic breast cancer. International Journal of Psychophysiology 54: 241-249 (2004).
  • Giese-Davis, J., Sephton, S.E., Abercrombie, H., Duran, R.E.F., and Spiegel, D. Repression is associated with a flattening of diurnal cortisol rhythm in women with metastatic breast cancer. Health Psychology 23(6): 645-650 (2004).
  • Salmon, P., Sephton, S.E., Weissbecker, I., Hoover, K., and Studts, J.. Mindfulness meditation in clinical practice. Cognitive and Behavioral Practice 11: 434-446 (2004).
  • Nes, L.S., Segerstrom, S.C., and Sephton, S.E.. Engagement and arousal: Optimism’s effects during a brief stressor. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 31: 111 – 120 (2005).
  • Blake-Mortimer, J.S., Sephton, S.E., Kimerling, R.,Butler, L.,Bernstein, A., and Spiegel, David. Chronic stress, depression and immunity in spouses of metastatic breast cancer patients. Clinical Psychologist 9(2): 59-63 (2005).
  • **Weissbecker, I, Floyd, A, Dedert, E, Salmon, P, and Sephton, S.E. Childhood trauma and diurnal cortisol disruption in fibromyalgia syndrome. Psychoneuroendocrinology 31(3) 312-324 (2006).
  • Antoni, M.H., Lutgendorf, S.K., Cole, S.W., Dhabhar, F.S., Sephton, S.E., McDonald, P.G., Stefanek, M., and Sood, A.K. The Influence of Biobehavioral Factors on Tumor Biology: Pathways and Mechanisms Nature Reviews Cancer 6(3) 240-248 (2006).
  • Gallagher-Thompson D, Shurgot GR, Rider K, Gray HL, McKibbin CL, Kraemer HC, Sephton, S. E., and Thompson, L. W.. Ethnicity, Stress, and Cortisol Function in Hispanic and Non-Hispanic White Women: A Preliminary Study of Family Dementia Caregivers and Noncaregivers. American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry 14(4):334-342 (2006).
  • Sephton, S.E., Kraemer, H.C., Stites, D.P., Di Miceli, S., Weissbecker, I., and Spiegel, D. Improving Methods of Assessing Natural Killer Cell Cytotoxicity. International Journal of Methods in Psychiatric Research 15(1):12-21 (2006).
  • Giese-Davis, J., Di Miceli, S., Sephton, S.E., and Spiegel, D. Emotional Expression and Diurnal Cortisol Slope in Women with Metastatic Breast Cancer in Supportive-Expressive Group Therapy" Biological Psychology 73(2):190-198 (2006).
  • Giese-Davis, J., Wilhelm, F.H., Conrad, A., Abercrombie, H., Sephton, S., Yutsis, M., Taylor, C.B., Kraemer, H.C., and Spiegel, D. Depression and Stress Reactivity in Metastatic Breast Cancer. Psychosomatic Medicine 68(5), 675-683 (2006).
  • Sephton, S.E., Salmon, P., Weissbecker, I., Ulmer, C., Hoover, K., and Studts, J. Mindfulness Meditation Alleviates Depressive Symptoms in Women with Fibromyalgia: Results of a Randomized Clinical Trial Arthritis Care & Research 57(1): 77-85 (2007).
  • Weissbecker, I., Sephton, S.E., Martin, M.B., and Simpson D.M.. Psychological and Physiological Correlates of Stress in Children Exposed to Disaster: A Review of Current Research and Recommendations for Intervention. Children, Youth and Environments 18(1): 3-32 (2008).
  • Lutgendorf, S.K., Weinrib, A.Z., Penedo, F., Russell, D., DeDeest, K., Costanzo, E.S., Henderson, P.J., Sephton, S.E., Rohleder, N., Lucci, J.A., Cole, S.W., Sood, A.K., and Lubaroff, D.M. Interleukin-6, cortisol and depressive symptoms in ovarian cancer patients. Journal of Clinical Oncology 26(29):1-9 (2008).
  • **Lush, E., Salmon, P., Floyd, A., Studts, J.L., Weissbecker, I., and Sephton, S.E.. Mindfulness Meditation for Symptom Reduction in Fibromyalgia: Psychophysiological Correlates. Journal of Clinical Psychology in Medical Settings 16(2), 200-207. (2009).
  • Salmon, P., Lush. E., Jablonski, M., and Sephton, S.E.. Yoga and Mindfulness: Clinical Aspects of an Ancient Mind/Body Practice. Cognitive and Behavioral Practice 16(1): 59-72 (2009).
  • Segerstrom, S.C., and Sephton, S.E. Optimistic expectancies and cell-mediated immunity: The role of positive affect. Psychological Science (In Press).
  • Sephton, S. E., Dhabhar, F. S., Keuroghlian, A. S., Giese-Davis, J., McEwen, B. S., Ionan, A. C., et al. (2009). Depression, cortisol, and suppressed cell-mediated immunity in metastatic breast cancer. Brain Behavior and Immunity (In Press).
  • El-Mallakh, R.S., Stoddard, M., Jortani, S., El-Masri, A., Sephton, S. & Valdes, R. Aberrant regulation of endogenous ouabain-like factor in bipolar subjects. Psychiatry Research (In Press).

** Mentored student publication, Sephton lab

Courses Often Taught

  • PSYC 344 - Physiological Psychology
  • PSYC 404 - Introductory Neuroscience
  • PSYC 571 - Mind-Body Connections in Health
  • PSYC 643 - Principles of Neuroscience