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We are interested in investigating white matter connectivity using a novel computational framework that does not use diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) but only uses T1-weighted magnetic resonance imaging. The proposed method relies on correlating Jacobian determinants across different voxels based on the tensor-based morphometry (TBM) framework. In this paper, we show agreement between the TBM-based white matter connectivity and the DTI-based white matter atlas. As an application, altered white matter connectivity in a clinical population is determined.
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Background Early life stress (ELS) can compromise development, with higher amounts of adversity linked to behavioral problems. To understand this linkage, a growing body of research has examined two brain regions involved with socioemotional functioning—amygdala and hippocampus. Yet empirical studies have reported increases, decreases, and no differences within human and nonhuman animal samples exposed to different forms of ELS. This divergence in findings may stem from methodological factors, nonlinear effects of ELS, or both. Methods We completed rigorous hand-tracing of the amygdala and hippocampus in three samples of children who experienced different forms of ELS (i.e., physical abuse, early neglect, or low socioeconomic status). Interviews were also conducted with children and their parents or guardians to collect data about cumulative life stress. The same data were also collected in a fourth sample of comparison children who had not experienced any of these forms of ELS. Results Smaller amygdala volumes were found for children exposed to these different forms of ELS. Smaller hippocampal volumes were also noted for children who were physically abused or from low socioeconomic status households. Smaller amygdala and hippocampal volumes were also associated with greater cumulative stress exposure and behavioral problems. Hippocampal volumes partially mediated the relationship between ELS and greater behavioral problems. Conclusions This study suggests ELS may shape the development of brain areas involved with emotion processing and regulation in similar ways. Differences in the amygdala and hippocampus may be a shared diathesis for later negative outcomes related to ELS.
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Background The cerebellum is a brain region recognized primarily in the coordination of movement and related accessory motor functions. In addition, emerging evidence implicates the cerebellum in cognitive processes and suggests that this brain region may be subject to experience-dependent plastic changes in structure. Therefore, the aim of this study was to evaluate the role of early environmental deprivation in the maturation of the cerebellum and aspects of cognitive development. Methods Structural MRI volumes of 12 cerebellar sub-regions from 31 previously-neglected and 30 typically developing children were compared to subjects’ corresponding neuropsychological test scores. Results Neglected children had smaller volume of the superior-posterior cerebellar lobes. Moreover, superior-posterior lobe volume was found to mediate neuropsychological test performance differences between groups, with larger volumes yielding better outcomes on tests of memory and planning. Conclusions These data support the importance of experience-dependent plastic changes in cerebellar structure and highlight the role of the cerebellum in higher cognitive functions.
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Because individual differences in emotion regulation are associated with risk for childhood behavioral problems, multidisciplinary investigation of the genetic and neural underpinnings of emotion regulation should be a research priority. Here, we summarize research findings from three independent laboratories to demonstrate the ways in which a variety of developmental human neuroscience-based approaches can address critical conceptual issues in the emergence of emotion regulation. To do so, we present three perspectives on how developmental neurobiology constrains and enriches theories of ER. The three perspectives of (1) genetics, (2) brain structure and function, and (3) plasticity of development are illustrated with empirical results derived from both typical and atypical samples of children and adults. These perspectives are complementary and sometimes represent different levels of analysis of the same question.
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Cognitive deficits have been reported in children who experienced early neglect, especially children raised in institutionalized settings. Previous research suggests that early neglect may differentially affect the directional organization of white matter in the prefrontal cortex (PFC). This may be one mechanism to explain cognitive deficits associated with neglect. To test this idea, properties of white matter and neurocognitive performance were assessed in children who suffered early neglect and those raised in typical environments (n = 63, Mage  = 11.75 years). As predicted, prefrontal white matter microstructure was affected, consistent with more diffuse organization, in children that suffered early neglect and this was related to neurocognitive deficits. Such findings underscore how early adversity may affect the PFC and explain cognitive deficits associated with neglect.
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Individuals who experience early adversity, such as child maltreatment, are at heightened risk for a broad array of social and health difficulties. However, little is known about how this behavioral risk is instantiated in the brain. Here we examine a neurobiological contribution to individual differences in human behavior using methodology appropriate for use with pediatric populations paired with an in-depth measure of social behavior. We show that alterations in the orbitofrontal cortex among individuals who experienced physical abuse are related to social difficulties. These data suggest a biological mechanism linking early social learning to later behavioral outcomes.
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Here, we describe a novel method for volumetric segmentation of the amygdala from MRI images collected from 35 human subjects. This approach is adapted from open-source techniques employed previously with the hippocampus (Suh et al., 2011; Wang et al., 2011a,b). Using multi-atlas segmentation and machine learning-based correction, we were able to produce automated amygdala segments with high Dice (Mean = 0.918 for the left amygdala; 0.916 for the right amygdala) and Jaccard coefficients (Mean = 0.850 for the left; 0.846 for the right) compared to rigorously hand-traced volumes. This automated routine also produced amygdala segments with high intra-class correlations (consistency = 0.830, absolute agreement = 0.819 for the left; consistency = 0.786, absolute agreement = 0.783 for the right) and bivariate (r = 0.831 for the left; r = 0.797 for the right) compared to hand-drawn amygdala. Our results are discussed in relation to other cutting-edge segmentation techniques, as well as commonly available approaches to amygdala segmentation (e.g., Freesurfer). We believe this new technique has broad application to research with large sample sizes for which amygdala quantification might be needed.
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A large corpus of research indicates exposure to stress impairs cognitive abilities, specifically executive functioning dependent on the prefrontal cortex (PFC). We collected structural MRI scans (n=61), well-validated assessments of executive functioning, and detailed interviews assessing stress exposure in humans, to examine whether cumulative life stress affected brain morphometry and one type of executive functioning, spatial working memory, during adolescence—a critical time of brain development and reorganization. Analysis of variations in brain structure revealed that cumulative life stress and spatial working memory were related to smaller volumes in the PFC, specifically prefrontal gray and white matter between the anterior cingulate and the frontal poles. Mediation analyses revealed that individual differences in prefrontal volumes accounted for the association between cumulative life stress and spatial working memory. These results suggest that structural changes in the PFC may serve as a mediating mechanism through which greater cumulative life stress engenders decrements in cognitive functioning.
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