The goal of this research is to use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to study the neural basis of attentional dyscontrol and emotion dysregulation in a sample of young children (ages 6-9) who are displaying early onset pervasive anger and irritability. These symptoms represent a significant mental health concern that some say requires a new diagnostic category in the DSM-V revision in order to secure the research and clinical services that these children require. The proposed study will be the first to examine brain mechanisms for attentional dyscontrol and emotion dysregulation, which signify key behavioral deficits, in these young school-age, unmedicated children upon first clinic presentation. Obtaining these measures of functional abnormalities in attentional control and emotion regulatory neural systems in young children presenting with pervasive anger and irritability relative to age-matched healthy counterparts will first help us to identify which children show greater levels of dysfunction within these neural systems. It is also a first step toward the longer term goal of examining the extent to which these neural system abnormalities may represent biological markers that can help distinguish relevant developmental trajectories of psychopathology, so that different treatments can be applied at this early stage of symptomatology. Well-validated experimental paradigms, including one paradigm developed by the PI, and behavioral measures will be employed. Primary analyses will probe the neural activity within specific regions related to attentional dyscontrol and emotion dysregulation, and connectivity amongst them, in order to define brain deficits for this illness. Exploratory analyses will examine the extent to which these neural system abnormalities may predict symptom severity and clinical diagnosis by correlating activity in these neural systems with parent reported symptom severity and clinician diagnostic report. Finally, long term plans for this research include a future proposal to complete a longitudinal neuroimaging study in which young children presenting with pervasive anger and irritability will be scanned yearly to increase our understanding of the neural and clinical trajectories of these symptoms. The P.I. already possesses general knowledge of developmental psychology with specific emphasis on emotional development and has extensive experience in the neuroimaging of young children, but lacks the clinical skill set necessary to become an independent scientist in the field of child psychiatry. Therefore, the proposed training plan is aimed at acquiring the relevant clinical skill set necessary to conduct neurodevelopmental research regarding early risk for child psychopathology. The P.I. will complete coursework, train with experts in the field, and author empirical and theoretical publications in order to develop an understanding of child clinical issues. This cross-disciplinary research and training plan, therefore, allows for a stepwise approach to a career in the cognitive and affective neuroscience of child psychopathology.
Early onset pervasive anger and irritability represents a significant mental health concern because these children are in severe need of clinical care, but often do not meet criteria for diagnosis of a specific disorder. This research is, therefore, aimed at defining key neural dysfunctioning and its subsequent trajectory related to attentional dyscontrol and emotional dysregulation, key behavioral deficits, in a sample of young (6-9 years-old), unmedicated children at first clinic presentation. Obtaining these measures of neural system functional abnormalities in young children presenting with pervasive anger and irritability relative to age-matched healthy counterparts, is, therefore, a first step toward the longer term goal of examining the extent to which these abnormalities may represent biological markers that can help distinguish relevant developmental trajectories of psychopathology, so that different treatments can be applied at this early stage of symptomatology.
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