Functional and structural neuroimaging of social and executive brain circuitry in individuals with autism


Kimberly Carpenter


Research Mentor:

Dr. Aysenil Belger, PhD


Clinical Co-Mentor:

Dr. Joseph Piven, MD

Project Description:

Autism (AD) is a chronic, heterogeneous neurodevelopmental disorder that affects one in every 150 individuals, making it more common than pediatric cancer, diabetes, and AIDS combined (1, 2). The social functioning impairments and repetitive behaviors and restricted interests that are characteristic of AD are suggested to be associated with more basic deficits in social cognition (SC) and executive function (EF). As such, development of new, focused treatment avenues critically depends on our ability to elucidate how the underlying neurobiology contributing to these domains of cognition is altered in individuals with AD. The objective of my research is three-fold:

1) To establish a foundation for future intervention studies by utilizing functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) technology to determine the effect of social distraction on the neural circuitry associated with an EF target detection paradigm in a group of individuals with high-functioning autism (HFA) as compared to typically developing (TD) participants.

2) To expand upon the fMRI findings by utilizing Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI) to understand how white matter tract properties contribute to the differences in brain activity between the HFA individuals as compared to TD participants.

3) To investigate how alterations in functional activity and white matter properties contribute to the clinical phenotype, specifically with respect to social functioning and non-verbal communication, of our HFA cohort.

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