In the Spotlight

In the Spotlight

David A. Axelson, MD
Associate Professor of Psychiatry

A board-certified child and adolescent psychiatrist, Dr. Axelson is a leading researcher in the area of child and adolescent mental health disorders and also maintains a robust clinical schedule in the Adolescent Bipolar Services outpatient program at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic (WPIC) at UPMC, where he also serves as the Medical Director.  In addition to his extensive clinical and research activities, Dr. Axelson is highly regarded as a teacher and mentor by medical students, residents, postdoctoral fellows and junior faculty.

Dr. Axelson is nationally recognized as an expert in child and adolescent psychopathology, pediatric bipolar disorder and depression. His research and clinical expertise has been featured in numerous media stories appearing in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times and iVillage, among others, and his work played a prominent role in the PBS Frontline special, “The Medicated Child.”  Most recently, Dr. Axelson’s editorial in the American Journal of Psychiatry focusing on the creation of a new DSM-5 diagnosis - disruptive mood dysregulation disorder diagnosis – has sparked further discussion on the need for more developmental research on severe anger outburst and chronic irritability in children and how this behavior relates to other psychiatric disorders in this population.

Dr. Axelson is a graduate of Brown University and attained his M.D. in 1992 from the Duke University School of Medicine.  After completing his residency training in the combined General – Child Psychiatry program at WPIC, he was appointed as a postdoctoral fellow to the federally funded Clinical Research Training in Child Psychiatry program where he focused on the study of child and adolescent mood disorders under the mentorship of Drs. David Brent, Boris Birmaher and James Perel.

Since his appointment to the Department of Psychiatry faculty in 2000, Dr. Axelson has built a successful career as an independent researcher whose interests include pediatric bipolar disorder (phenomenology, endophenotypes and treatment), diagnostic biomarkers for pediatric affective disorders, and pediatric psychopharmacology.  He has served as the Principal Investigator (PI) and co-PI on several NIMH-funded studies centered on understanding the phenomenology of pediatric bipolar disorder, and improving the treatment of the illness. These investigations include several projects for which he is the PI or Co-PI of the Pittsburgh site such as the Family-Focused Therapy for Adolescents with Bipolar Disorder project, the Treatment of Early-Age Mania study, and the Course and Outcome of Bipolar Youth, as well as the Pittsburgh Bipolar Offspring Study (with Co-PI’s Drs. Boris Birmaher and Mary Phillips) and a Longitudinal Assessment of Manic Symptoms (for which he is a Co-Investigator).  Dr. Axelson has widely disseminated his research findings, publishing over 128 peer-reviewed articles in high impact journals including the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry and the Archives of General Psychiatry, and presenting at numerous scientific meetings and conferences.