Past: Central Mechanisms of Pain Perception
For my dissertation, I developed task-based fMRI experiments to investigate interactions between sensory signals in their competition for brain resources in healthy individuals and in patients with chronic pain.
In addition to my dissertation, I collaborated with evolutionary anthropologist Daniel Schmitt to examine the effect of chronic knee pain on gait mechanics. I also helped establish an fMRI investigation of abnormal sensory perception in adults with autism with Carissa Cascio and Grace Baranek.
These collaborations represented a turning point in my career as I became interested in how altered strategies for filtering basic sensory information might affect motor function.
Present: Brain Basis of Motor Deficits in Autism
Since joining KKI, I have worked closely with members of the SMART group at JHU. My research has focused on innovative and reliable methods for investigating the functional organization of the brain, with a focus on regions of the brain critical to motor control and learning.
Clustering patterns of functional connectivity between the motor cortex and the rest of the brain, we observed that school-aged children with autism display reduced segregation between upper and lower limb control, similar to younger, typically developing children.
We also observed that visual and motor regions of the brain are intrinsically more out-of-sync in children with autism, which is consistent with behavioral evidence that these children are less sensitive to visual feedback during motor learning.
Future: Visual-Motor Development
Given the developmental nature of autism, it is critical that we study the progression of sensory-motor function during infancy, as sensory-motor signs may appear prior to the expression of social symptoms.
In collaboration with John Pruett at Washington University in St. Louis and Rebecca Landa at KKI, we have initiated a project to probe the development of visual-motor integration using existing data in infants at high risk for autism, using both neuroimaging and behavioral methods.