Clinical research in the area of neurodevelopment at Stark Neurosciences Research Institute focuses on understanding how differences in structure and function of the developing brain affect cognition, behavior and psychosocial outcomes. Related work includes structural and functional MRI studies of cognitive functioning (e.g., language, memory and executive functioning) and neuroimaging correlates in healthy children and adolescents and pediatric neuropsychiatric populations, including children with temporal lobe-onset seizures, those who have experienced mild traumatic brain injury/concussion or cancer treatment and those with disruptive behavior disorders or who are at risk for developing substance abuse disorders. Such studies have used neuroimaging to better understand brain-behavior relationships and to examine the neurobiological basis of emotion regulation and addiction risk.
Preclinical research among investigators in neurodevelopment is derived from a vibrant and broad research program in basic science developmental neurobiology. Researchers are interested in molecular mechanisms guiding cell fate specification (differentiation), survival and apoptosis, axon guidance and synaptogenesis. Of keen interest is how environment regulate these processes, including neurotrophic factors such as the neurotrophins and GDNF family of ligands, axon guidance molecules such as semaphorins and ephrins, cell fate determinants such as Hedgehog ligands, and regulatory factors such as chemokines. Multiple model systems are used including transgenic mice and C. Elegans. Pluripotent stem cells are utilized to produce sensory neurons, inner ear hair cells and retinal ganglion cells to identify epigenetic programs of neural differentiation. These developmental pathways are triggered upon the exposure to addictive drugs and neurodegenerative conditions leading to synapse and circuit remodeling.