This Mentored Research Scientist Development Award (K23) will enable the candidate to independently conduct research on the development of emotion regulation in autism that integrates clinical and brain findings. The candidate is a licensed child clinical psychologist, specialized in autism, who also has prior genetics training. Her short-term goals are to pursue training in the cognitive and affective neuroscience mechanisms underlying the development of emotion regulation in childhood and adolescence, the use of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), and methods for eliciting emotion and measuring emotional reactivity. Training will be accomplished via (a) meetings and guided readings with mentors Nancy Minshew, M.D., Kevin Pelphrey, Ph.D., and Ronald Dahl, M.D., and an expert team of internal and external consultants;(b) formal coursework;(c) attendance at local and national conferences, journal clubs, and research meetings, and (d) supervised hands-on experiences in the collection and analysis of data using fMRI methodologies and research on emotion regulation. The University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and Carnegie Mellon University will be the primary sites of this training, offering a combination of excellence in neuroscience and psychiatric research. A key component of the training is participation in all aspects of the proposed study, which utilizes functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging to explore the cognitive control of emotion in ASD. This particular component of emotion regulation was chosen as the focus based on the applicant's clinical impressions that perseveration often leads to disruptive emotional meltdowns in ASD, and because research in other populations suggests that attentional biases related to emotion regulation may be highly amenable to treatment. Within the infrastructure of the Pittsburgh NIH Autism Center of Excellence (PI Minshew), the proposed research will include 120 12 to 18 year old children, with and without high-functioning autism/Asperger's. Participants will view fear-inducing and neutral film clips while in the scanner. Multiple methods will be used to capture emotional reactivity;most notably, participants will continuously rate their emotional status throughout their time in the scanner. The study aims to: characterize the role of perseveration in emotional responses to negative stimuli in autism;investigate the functioning of the amygdala and pre- frontal cortex, and their interactions, during emotional responses;and gather preliminary data on the impact of age and comorbid mood, anxiety, and inattention symptoms on individual differences in emotional responding in autism. Insights into emotion regulation gained from this study, and the skills that the applicant will attain through the related training, will place the applicant in a strong position to conduct research on emotion regulation in autism that will specify mechanisms of change to inform treatment development and explain varying response to treatment.

Public Health Relevance

Poor emotion regulation in autism often leads to """"""""meltdowns"""""""" and worsening of social functioning. This research will identify specific components of emotion regulation that are problematic in autism, and the underlying brain mechanisms related to these difficulties. This information can then be used to develop novel treatments to improve emotional and social functioning in autism.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Mentored Patient-Oriented Research Career Development Award (K23)
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Study Section
Pediatrics Subcommittee (CHHD)
Program Officer
Kau, Alice S
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University of Pittsburgh
Schools of Medicine
United States
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Righi, Giulia; Benevides, Jill; Mazefsky, Carla et al. (2018) Predictors of Inpatient Psychiatric Hospitalization for Children and Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder. J Autism Dev Disord 48:3647-3657
Williams, Diane L; Siegel, Matthew; Mazefsky, Carla A et al. (2018) Problem Behaviors in Autism Spectrum Disorder: Association with Verbal Ability and Adapting/Coping Skills. J Autism Dev Disord 48:3668-3677
Handen, Benjamin L; Mazefsky, Carla A; Gabriels, Robin L et al. (2018) Risk Factors for Self-injurious Behavior in an Inpatient Psychiatric Sample of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Naturalistic Observation Study. J Autism Dev Disord 48:3678-3688
Lerner, Matthew D; Mazefsky, Carla A; Weber, Rebecca J et al. (2018) Verbal Ability and Psychiatric Symptoms in Clinically Referred Inpatient and Outpatient Youth with ASD. J Autism Dev Disord 48:3689-3701
Horowitz, Lisa M; Thurm, Audrey; Farmer, Cristan et al. (2018) Talking About Death or Suicide: Prevalence and Clinical Correlates in Youth with Autism Spectrum Disorder in the Psychiatric Inpatient Setting. J Autism Dev Disord 48:3702-3710
Mazefsky, Carla A; Day, Taylor N; Siegel, Matthew et al. (2018) Development of the Emotion Dysregulation Inventory: A PROMISĀ®ing Method for Creating Sensitive and Unbiased Questionnaires for Autism Spectrum Disorder. J Autism Dev Disord 48:3736-3746
Patel, Shivani; Day, Taylor N; Jones, Neil et al. (2017) Association between anger rumination and autism symptom severity, depression symptoms, aggression, and general dysregulation in adolescents with autism spectrum disorder. Autism 21:181-189
Mazefsky, Carla A (2015) Emotion Regulation and Emotional Distress in Autism Spectrum Disorder: Foundations and Considerations for Future Research. J Autism Dev Disord 45:3405-8
Siegel, Matthew; Smith, Kahsi A; Mazefsky, Carla et al. (2015) The autism inpatient collection: methods and preliminary sample description. Mol Autism 6:61
Eack, Shaun M; Mazefsky, Carla A; Minshew, Nancy J (2015) Misinterpretation of facial expressions of emotion in verbal adults with autism spectrum disorder. Autism 19:308-15

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