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Mild traumatic brain injury increases risk of behavioral and emotional problems in kids

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

University of Rochester researchers have been at the forefront of efforts to understand how blows to the head impact the brain, including how concussions change brain structure . Now researchers at the Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience have found that kids who experience a traumatic brain injury (TBI), even a mild one, have more emotional and behavioral problems than kids who do not.

Dan Lopez“These hits to the head are hard to study because much of it depends on recall of an injury since the impacts do not all require a visit to a doctor,” said Daniel Lopez, a Ph.D. candidate in the Epidemiology program and first author of the study out today in NeuroImage. "But being able to analyze longitudinal data from a large cohort and ask important questions like this gives us valuable information into how a TBI, even a mild one, impacts a developing brain."​

Researchers used MRI and behavioral data collected from thousands of children who participated in the Adolescence Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study. They revealed children with a mild TBI experienced a 15-percent increased risk of an emotional or behavioral problem. The risk was the highest in children around ten years old. Researchers found that children who had a significant hit to the head but did not meet diagnostic criteria for a mild TBI also had an increased risk of these behavioral and emotional problems.     

The University of Rochester Medical Center is one of 21 research sites collecting data for the National Institutes of Health ABCD Study. Since 2017, 340 children from the greater Rochester area have been part of the 10-year study that is following 11,750 children through early adulthood. It looks at how biological development, behaviors, and experiences impact brain maturation and other aspects of their lives, including academic achievement, social development, and overall health.

Ed FreedmanResearchers hope future ABCD Study data will better reveal the impact these head hits have on mental health and psychiatric problems. “We know some of the brain regions associated with increased risk of mental health problems are impacted during a TBI,” said Ed Freedman, Ph.D., associate professor of Neuroscience and co-principal investigator of the ABCD Study at the University of Rochester. Freedman also led this study. “With more time and data, we hope to gain a better understanding of the long-term impact of even a mild TBI.”

Additional co-authors include Zachary Christensen, John J. Foxe, Ph.D., Laura Ziemer, and Paige Nicklas, all members of the Frederick J. and Marion A Schindler Cognitive Neurophysiology Lab that is part of the Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience at the University of Rochester. The research was supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and the UR Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center.

The brains of children with autism may not always ‘see’ body language

Monday, July 18, 2022

Noticing and understanding what it means when a person leans into a conversation or takes a step back and crosses their arms is a vital part of human communication. Researchers at the Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience at the University of Rochester have found that children with autism spectrum disorder may not always process body movements effectively, especially if they are distracted by something else.

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“Being able to read and respond to someone’s body language is important in our daily interactions with others,” said Emily Knight, M.D., Ph.D., clinical and postdoctoral fellow in Pediatrics and Neuroscience, is the firstauthor of the study recently published in Molecular Autism. “Our findings suggest that when children with autism are distracted by something else, their brains process the movements of another person differently than their peers.”

Key differences in brain processes

Using electroencephalogram (EEG), researchers recorded the brain waves of children with and without autism as they watched videos of moving dots that were arranged to look like a person. In these videos the dots moved to represent actions such as running, kicking, or jumping, and at times were turned in different directions or jumbled to no longer move like a person. The six to 16 years olds were asked to either focus on the color of the dots or to focus on whether the dots moved like a person. Researchers found the brainwaves of children with autism did not process when the dots moved like a person if they were focused on the dot color.

“If their brain is processing body movements less they might have a harder time understanding other people, and need to pay extra attention to body language in order to see it,” said Knight. “Knowing this can help guide new ways to support people with autism.”

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“This is more evidence of how the brain of someone with autism is processing the world around them,” said John Foxe, Ph.D., led author of the study. “This research is a vital step in creating a more inclusive space for people with autism by giving a glimpse of how their brain processes an unspoken part of communication.”

Additional authors include Ed Freedman, Ph.D., from the University of Rochester Medical Center, John Butler, Ph.D., Aaron Krakowski, and Sophie Molholm, Ph.D., of Einstein College of Medicine. This research was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health and the University of Rochester Intellectual and Developmental Disability Research Center (UR-IDDRC) and the Rose F. Kennedy Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center (RFK-IDDRC).

Researchers provide insight into how the brain multitasks while walking

Monday, January 24, 2022

The associate professor of Neuroscience and his Del Monte Institute colleagues published a study in NeuroImage that provides evidence of how the brain takes on multiple tasks without sacrificing how either activity is accomplished. "Looking at these findings to understand how a young, healthy brain is able to switch tasks will give us better insight to what's going awry in a brain with a neurodegenerative disease like Alzheimer's disease," Freedman says.

Read More: Researchers provide insight into how the brain multitasks while walking