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1.  A pilot study of basal ganglia and thalamus structure by high dimensional mapping in children with Tourette syndrome 
F1000Research  2013;2:207.
Background: Prior brain imaging and autopsy studies have suggested that structural abnormalities of the basal ganglia (BG) nuclei may be present in Tourette Syndrome (TS). These studies have focused mainly on the volume differences of the BG structures and not their anatomical shapes.  Shape differences of various brain structures have been demonstrated in other neuropsychiatric disorders using large-deformation, high dimensional brain mapping (HDBM-LD).  A previous study of a small sample of adult TS patients demonstrated the validity of the method, but did not find significant differences compared to controls. Since TS usually begins in childhood and adult studies may show structure differences due to adaptations, we hypothesized that differences in BG and thalamus structure geometry and volume due to etiological changes in TS might be better characterized in children.
Objective: Pilot the HDBM-LD method in children and estimate effect sizes.
Methods: In this pilot study, T1-weighted MRIs were collected in 13 children with TS and 16 healthy, tic-free, control children. The groups were well matched for age.  The primary outcome measures were the first 10 eigenvectors which are derived using HDBM-LD methods and represent the majority of the geometric shape of each structure, and the volumes of each structure adjusted for whole brain volume. We also compared hemispheric right/left asymmetry and estimated effect sizes for both volume and shape differences between groups.
Results: We found no statistically significant differences between the TS subjects and controls in volume, shape, or right/left asymmetry.  Effect sizes were greater for shape analysis than for volume.
Conclusion: This study represents one of the first efforts to study the shape as opposed to the volume of the BG in TS, but power was limited by sample size. Shape analysis by the HDBM-LD method may prove more sensitive to group differences.
PMCID: PMC3976104
2.  Towards objectively quantifying sensory hypersensitivity: a pilot study of the “Ariana effect” 
PeerJ  2013;1:e121.
Background. Normally one habituates rapidly to steady, faint sensations. People with sensory hypersensitivity (SH), by contrast, continue to attend to such stimuli and find them noxious. SH is common in Tourette syndrome (TS) and autism, and methods to quantify SH may lead to better understanding of these disorders. In an attempt to objectively quantify SH severity, the authors tested whether a choice reaction time (CRT) task was a sensitive enough measure to detect significant distraction from a steady tactile stimulus, and to detect significantly greater distraction in subjects with more severe SH.
Methods. Nineteen ambulatory adult volunteers with varying scores on the Adult Sensory Questionnaire (ASQ), a clinical measure of SH, completed a CRT task in the alternating presence and absence of tactile stimulation.
Results. Tactile stimulation interfered with attention (i.e., produced longer reaction times), and this effect was significantly greater in participants with more SH (higher ASQ scores). Accuracy on the CRT was high in blocks with and without stimulation. Habituation within stimulation blocks was not detected.
Conclusion. This approach can detect distraction from a cognitive task by a steady, faint tactile stimulus that does not degrade response accuracy. The method was also sensitive to the hypothesized enhancement of this effect by SH. These results support the potential utility of this approach to quantifying SH, and suggest possible refinements for future studies.
PMCID: PMC3740136  PMID: 23940834
Attention; Sensory hypersensitivity; Habituation; Tourette syndrome; Reaction time; Tactile stimulation
3.  Atypical Neural Networks for Social Orienting in Autism Spectrum Disorders 
NeuroImage  2011;56(1):354-362.
Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are characterized by significant social impairments, including deficits in orienting attention following social cues. Behavioral studies investigating social orienting in ASD, however, have yielded mixed results, as the use of naturalistic paradigms typically reveals clear deficits whereas computerized laboratory experiments often report normative behavior. The present study is the first to examine the neural mechanisms underlying social orienting in ASD in order to provide new insight into the social attention impairments that characterize this disorder. Using fMRI, we examined the neural correlates of social orienting in children and adolescents with ASD and in a matched sample of typically developing (TD) controls while they performed a spatial cueing paradigm with social (eye gaze) and nonsocial (arrow) cues. Cues were either directional (indicating left or right) or neutral (indicating no direction), and directional cues were uninformative of the upcoming target location in order to engage automatic processes by minimizing expectations. Behavioral results demonstrated intact orienting effects for social and nonsocial cues, with no differences between groups. The imaging results, however, revealed clear group differences in brain activity. When attention was directed by social cues compared to nonsocial cues, the TD group showed increased activity in frontoparietal attention networks, visual processing regions, and the striatum, whereas the ASD group only showed increased activity in the superior parietal lobule. Significant group × cue type interactions confirmed greater responsivity in task-relevant networks for social cues than nonsocial cues in TD as compared to ASD, despite similar behavioral performance. These results indicate that, in the autistic brain, social cues are not assigned the same privileged status as they are in the typically developing brain. These findings provide the first empirical evidence that the neural circuitry involved in social orienting is disrupted in ASD and highlight that normative behavioral performance in a laboratory setting may reflect compensatory mechanisms rather than intact social attention.
PMCID: PMC3091391  PMID: 21334443
autism; attention; functional magnetic resonance imaging; gaze; social cue
4.  The neural correlates of social attention: automatic orienting to social and nonsocial cues 
Psychological Research  2009;73(4):499-511.
Previous evidence suggests that directional social cues (e.g., eye gaze) cause automatic shifts in attention toward gaze direction. It has been proposed that automatic attentional orienting driven by social cues (social orienting) involves a different neural network from automatic orienting driven by nonsocial cues. However, previous neuroimaging studies on social orienting have only compared gaze cues to symbolic cues, which typically engage top-down mechanisms. Therefore, we directly compared the neural activity involved in social orienting to that involved in purely automatic nonsocial orienting. Twenty participants performed a spatial cueing task consisting of social (gaze) cues and automatic nonsocial (peripheral squares) cues presented at short and long stimulus (cue-to-target) onset asynchronies (SOA), while undergoing fMRI. Behaviorally, a facilitation effect was found for both cue types at the short SOA, while an inhibitory effect (inhibition of return: IOR) was found only for nonsocial cues at the long SOA. Imaging results demonstrated that social and nonsocial cues recruited a largely overlapping fronto-parietal network. In addition, social cueing evoked greater activity in occipito-temporal regions at both SOAs, while nonsocial cueing recruited greater subcortical activity, but only for the long SOA (when IOR was found). A control experiment, including central arrow cues, confirmed that the occipito-temporal activity was at least in part due to the social nature of the cue and not simply to the location of presentation (central vs. peripheral). These results suggest an evolutionary trajectory for automatic orienting, from predominantly subcortical mechanisms for nonsocial orienting to predominantly cortical mechanisms for social orienting.
PMCID: PMC2694932  PMID: 19350270

Results 1-4 (4)