My work focuses on examining behavior and cognition of individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders. One of the goals in my lab is to better understand why people who have the same genetic developmental disorder have many of the same behavioral characteristics, why some characteristics vary within a genetic population, and what neurobiological mechanisms account for these behaviors. In addition to cognitive and behavioral assessments, we use brain imaging (fMRI) to examine cognitive processes associated with specific behavior. Currently, my research is directed at understanding several characteristics of individuals with Prader-Willi syndrome (PWS), including hyperphagia and compulsive behavior, in addition to social and communication ability in comparison to autism spectrum disorders.
- Brain Mechanisms of Overeating in Prader-Willi Syndrome. The purpose of this study is to use functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to understand what happens in the brain when people with Prader-Willi syndrome think about different types of food. We aim to identify whether the brain responds differently to high-calorie foods when people with PWS have not eaten for several hours compared to after eating. Ultimately, we hope to understand what role rewarding food has on the eating disorder in PWS. The information gained from this study may facilitate the development of appropriate interventions for the overeating problem and food-related preoccupations in Prader-Willi syndrome.This work is supported by grant RO3HD058766-01 from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
- Symptoms of Autistic Disorder in Prader-Willi Syndrome. The goal of this study is to examine social and communication problems in individuals with PWS in comparison to those with an autism spectrum disorder. Preliminary findings and genetic research indicates people with PWS who have uniparental disomy (UPD) genetic status may be more likely to show symptoms of autism than those with paternal deletion subtype. We aim to use the gold standard standardized measures to assess symptoms of autism to investigate the potential link to Prader-Willi syndrome. In addition, speech and language evaluations will be conducted and social-perceptual problems (such as difficulty recognizing faces) will be compared to individuals with autism spectrum disorders.This research is supported by a grant from the Prader-Willi Syndrome Association (PWSA-USA).