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Paediatric Development and Lifespan

Functional neuroimaging in pediatrics (incl. neonates) is highly challenging. Motion artifacts result in significant rejection of data, and limited attention spans place severe restrictions on paradigm length. Ongoing multi-modality research programs are studying neurocognitive development in infants and children, both from the standpoint of normal development, and within the context of developmental disorders (e.g. autism spectrum disorders).

Neonatal Neuroimaging. Perinatal brain injury is a major health problem of rising incidence with potential life-long consequences. It can lead to cognitive and behavioural abnormalities including cerebral palsy, epilepsy and learning difficulties. The behavioural, neuroanatomical and electrophysiological abnormalities detectable by currently available methodologies are poor predictors of long-term impairments. While there has been much research on the functional evaluation of the brain in adults using the tools of cognitive neuroscience (particularly EEG/ERPs and fMRI), these methods have not yet been adapted to provide valuable clinical tools to assess neonatal brain function.

Neuroimaging in Children. Currently we focus our research on school age children (≥6yrs old), due to the difficulty that younger children can have with remaining still during 45-60 minute MRI session even with tools like our “0 T” simulator and system to provide motion feedback to children during practice.

CFREF BrainsCAN Supported Studies

2019


Mindful
PI: Elizabeth, Hayden

Department: Psychology

Award Value: Reduced Rate

Mindfulness is a multifaceted construct, comprised of observing one’s moment-to-moment experiences in a nonjudgmental, nonreactive fashion, along with acting with awareness and intention. In recent decades, mindfulness meditation has gained immense traction in Western cultures as means of achieving personal growth, enhancing well-being, and as a treatment approach to a multitude of mental health disorders. As a testimony to their popularity, mindfulness-based techniques have been implemented in prisons, corporations, government organizations, and, particularly relevant to the current project, grade school curricula. Even exceptionally brief mindfulness exercises have demonstrated positive effects on emotion-regulation and executive function; however, while the benefits of mindfulness in adults have been experimentally documented, the rapid adoption of mindfulness in schools has outpaced methodologically sophisticated examinations of the influence of mindfulness techniques on children. In particular, while mindfulness is thought to enhance adaptive factors such as emotion regulation and executive control in individuals, objective tests of how mindfulness relates to these constructs are exceptionally rare in the extant literature on children.

While a rich literature on the neural substrates related to states of mindfulness in adults has accrued, virtually nothing is known about the developmental neuroscience of mindfulness in children. By examining the brain networks and functional activity associated with children's mindfulness in a pilot subsample of children selected based on their behavioral responses to the mindfulness exercise it is expected that this research will advance what is known about the benefits of mindfulness for children's individual differences in self-regulation, as well as the neural mechanisms that underpin these benefits. Findings will inform school-based mindfulness programs aimed at fostering academic achievement, prosocial behavior, and optimal child development.

Decision-Making
PI: Bruce, Morton

Department: Psychology

Award Value: Reduced Rate

The overarching purpose of this study is to assess whether individual differences in resting-state functional connectivity, and structural connectivity (white matter tracts) between prefrontal and subcortical regions are predictive of individual differences in reward-based decision-making and self-regulation. The capacity to make effective decisions is critical for adaptive psychological functioning. Indeed, the inability to adequately consider the long-term consequences of one’s actions when immediate rewards are available is characteristic of immature, atypically developing, and psychologically diseased individuals, and a source of maladjusted behaviours including impulsivity, imprudent spending, interpersonal conflict, substance abuse, and obesogenic behaviours. Over time, the compounding effect of these behaviours can have serious and determinantal effects on physical and brain health. Therefore, identification of potential neurophysiological biomarkers of dysregulated decision-making is of the upmost importance from a basic and applied research standpoint.

It involves the use of imaging and cognitive batteries to identify potential cognitive and neurophysiological markers underlying maladaptive decision-making. Such information is pertinent to inform strategic policies and priorities aimed at significantly reducing the impact of maladaptive decision-making on individual and societal health and well-being.

Altering high-risk trajectories in adolescent anxiety
PI: Elizabeth, Hayden

Department: Psychology

Award Value: Reduced Rate

Adolescence is a critical period with respect to mental health problems, as anxious symptoms rapidly increase at this time. Identifying etiological factors that place youth at risk, particularly ones that are modifiable, is crucial toward prevention. Maladaptive attentional bias (AB) play a causal role in risk and also appear amenable to early intervention, although specific attention components and their brain correlates are poorly understood. We will therefore use cutting-edge tools to examine the neural and attentional components that characterize at-risk youth, and will use an attention bias modification (ABM) paradigm to examine change in these related to prevention. Our findings will directly contribute to knowledge on the etiology of depression and anxiety and contribute to more efficient and cost-effective earlier prevention.

a key etiological process in multiple psychopathological brain disorders. We will train research staff at different levels of expertise and produce HQP with expertise at the intersection of clinical and brain science. In line with the Knowledge Translation & Impact plan, our findings will directly inform, and potentially even transform, the selection and implementation of effective prevention/intervention tools that are suited to both clinical and nonclinical settings (e.g., in the classroom or home). Our project will be the first step in a program of research promoting evidence-based prevention for adolescence anxiety, increasing our understanding of relevant neural mechanisms, and significantly reducing the impact of anxiety via early prevention.

2018


Intergenerational
PI: Daniel, Ansari

Department: Psychology

Award Value: Reduced Rate

In this project, we will investigate the effect of neural, cognitive and environmental factors on arithmetic, reading and their relation. On top of that, and for the very first time, we will assess these factors both in children, as well as in their biological mothers. All participants (children and mothers) will undergo brain imaging scanning (task-based fMRI, resting-state fMRI, DTI and a classic T1 scan).

This unique research project will provide us with answers to fundamental questions on what influences academic abilities at a completely novel level of analysis. In addition, it will help further our understanding of which factors contribute to low academic achievement across reading and arithmetic and could therefore inform both diagnosis and remediation of (comorbid) reading and arithmetic difficulties. If successful, this project will have a significant impact on developmental cognitive neuroscience, by demonstrating the feasibility and merit of intergenerational neuroimaging.

2017


Children's brain and hormonal responses to mild stress
PI: Hayden, Elizabeth

Department: Psychology

Award Value: Reduced Scanning Rate

The purpose of this project is to understand the role of dysfunctional neural network activity in risk for Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). Although others have identified maladaptive functional brain activity associated with MDD, the field has largely focused on adults who have already developed MDD. While this approach has yielded important results, we are unable to determine the direction of causality (i.e., does MDD lead to maladaptive neural function or vice-versa). The current study builds on an extensively characterized sample of children and their families (n = 410 families with previously collected Diffuse Tensor Imaging [DTI], genetic, endocrinological, behavioural, and diagnostic data at age 3, 5, 8) prior to onset of depression (current age 11). By investigating both resting state and task-based fMRI, focusing on functional networks and regions implicated in risk for MDD, we will be able to identify functional neural biomarkers of risk for MDD that precede the onset of MDD. These findings have wide-reaching diagnostic, preventative, and intervention implications.

This data will represent one of the most extensive neuroimaging studies of MDD risk, prior to onset of MDD. Our longitudinal multi-methodological approach will allow us to connect neuroimaging data to previous and concurrent measures of behaviour, cognition, and biology.It involves the use of imaging, genetic, biochemical, environmental, and behavioural data to identify functional biomarkers of risk for MDD.

Genetic and Environmental Contributions to Differences in Self-Regulation Early in Development
PI: Morton, Bruce

Department: Psychology

Award Value: Reduced Rate

Adversity impacts many aspects of psychological and physical development including reward-based learning and decision-making. Mechanisms relating adversity and reward processing in children, however, remain unclear. In a previous study, we showed that adversity is associated with potentiated learning from positive outcomes and impulsive decision-making. Using fMRI, we demonstrated that the link between adversity and reward processing is partially mediated by differences in ventral striatal response to rewards. Our previous findings suggest that early-life adversity is associated with alterations in the brain's sensitivity to rewards accounting, in part, for the link between adversity and altered reward processing, including impulsivity. In this follow-up study we aim to determine whether the experience of early-life adveristy impacts the functional and structural connectivity of fronto-striatal networks. This research program is unique in that it endavours to identify and characterize the broad range of cognitive, emotional, and neural markers associated with the impact adversity using a variety of behavioural, cognitive and neuroimaging techniques. Using resting state fMRI and DTI, we aim to determine whether early-life adversity leaves a lasting imprint on the structural and functional connectivity of regions implicated in reward-processing. We will also administer a behavioural battary to measure individual differneces in impulsivity, reward-learning, and executive functioning in the same sample of children. Our findings could potentially help explain the neurophysiological underpinnings of individual differences in impulsivity. Furthermore, we will determine whether early life adversity results in altered reward processing in children, both behaviourally and neurophysiologically.

It involves the use of imaging and cognitive batteries to evaluate deficits in attention, learning, and decision-making in children who have experienced varying amounts of adversity. An understanding of how adversity impacts children's reward processing could help shed light on disorders such as ADHD.

Amplifying Empathy-Related Brain Activity in Youth with Conduct Problems and Callous Traits
PI: Mitchell, Derek

Department: Psychology

Award Value: Reduced Rate

Youth with conduct disorder display severe antisocial behaviours including aggression, destruction of property, theft and violation of rules. A subset of youth with conduct disorder exhibit high callous and unemotional (CU) traits which has been associated with reduced empathy and emotional reactivity to other's distress. The purpose of this project is to examine the extent of an empathy induction fMRI task to elicit neural activity in empathy-related brain regions, the amygdala and ventromedial prefrontal cortex, and increase subjective feelings of concern in response to emotional-eliciting stimuli. In addition to the fMRI-empathy induction task, youth with conduct disorder and age and sex matched controls will undergo standardized cognitive testing and youth and parents will complete questionnaires to assess self and parent-reported aggression and CU traits. We predict that youth with high CU traits will display a reduced capacity to modulate activity within the amygdala and ventromedial prefrontal cortex in response to emotional stimuli relative to youth with low CU traits and controls. This study will help identify the specific neural regions associated with reduced empathic capacity in youth with high CU trait that may be targeted in future treatments or therapeutic interventions.

This project will help characterize and measure the empathy-related deficits among youth with conduct disorder. Furthermore, the study involves the use of imaging and standardized neuropsychological batteries to evaluate aspects of cognition. Additionally, this study involves collaboration between basic-scientists and clinicians across different institutions.

Adaptation
PI: Daniel, Ansari

Department: Psychology

Award Value: Reduced Rate

The purpose of this project is to better understand how our brains come to process numerical symbols (i.e. words and Arabic digits), over the course of learning and development. Specifically, we aim to investigate how the ratio dependent neural rebound effect in response to numbers changes with age and experience.

It is investigating a fundamental aspect of human cognition: How do neural represenations of number change over development? A cross-sectional sample of 19 children ages 6-14 passively viewed Arabic digits in a functional magnetic resonance imaging adaptation paradigm. Results showed a significant positive correlation between age and the ratio-dependent neural rebound effect in the left intraparietal sulcus (IPS), whereby older children showed increased ratio-dependent activation within the left IPS. The current study seeks to replicate this finding with a much larger sample of children, and extend the study by examining links between functional activation in the IPS and white matter connectivity, as well as behavioural measures of numerical processing and arithmetic.