The focus of the research is on brain and behavioral development during childhood and adolescence in health and disease, and on the impact of genetic, biological and environmental factors. Structural and functional brain maturation is assessed with multimodal magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) techniques. Measurements, such as brain structure volumes, cortical thickness and area, fractional anisotropy and mean diffusivity (measures of white matter microstructure), fiber tract characteristics, and brain activation at rest or during the performance of specific psychological tasks, are related to clinical, behavioral, biochemical and genetic variables.
The two main research projects in the field of brain maturation are the HUBU ("Hjernens Udvikling hos Børn og Unge": Brain maturation in children and adolescents) project and the Glucocorticoid project.
HUBU (“Hjernens Udvikling hos Børn og Unge“: Brain maturation in children and adolescents)
This project aims to define the degree of variability in the maturational trajectories of different brain circuits among healthy children, and to link these to developing cognitive, emotional and neuroendocrine functions. Moreover, we examine the impact of environmental factors, e.g. alcohol use, physical activity and stress, as well as intrinsic factors, e.g. genetic polymorphisms and hormones, on such development. The work addresses critical questions regarding the factors that place young people at risk for developing emotional problems and substance abuse, as well as related questions regarding the consequences of early stress and exposure to alcohol and drugs on continuing biological development of the brain.
HUBU is an ongoing longitudinal project, which started in Spring 2007, and included 94 children aged 7-13 years at baseline. The first 10 assessments were conducted with 6-month intervals, the 11th assessment one year later (2013), and the 12th assessment three years later (finalized July 2016). At each assessment, participants underwent approximately one hour MRI, and two hours of clinical and behavioral assessments, including computerized cognitive and emotional tasks, questionnaires, e.g. personality traits, stressful life events, physical activity, and saliva samples. Moreover, in parallel to the first five assessments the Danish School of Education and the National Center for Reading tested children's math and reading skills at their schools. Presently, we are analyzing the wealth of longitudinal data and finalizing papers.
The Glucocorticoid Project
The project examines potential long-term effects of glucocorticoid treatment for non-cerebral diseases in early life on brain structure and function in children and adolescents aged 7-14 years. To examine the long-term effects of glucocorticoids, two clinical groups diagnosed with rheumatic or nephritic disorder were enrolled in the study alongside a control group matched on sex and age. The two clinical groups have been treated with high doses of exogenous glucocorticoid in (pre)school years. All participants underwent structural MRI and DWI, and clinical and neuropsychological assessments. Furthermore, two fMRI paradigms designed to engage brain regions enriched with glucocorticoid receptors were implemented. Salivary cortisol and alpha-amylase samples were collected during scanning and on two separate normal weekdays. The project started in Summer 2010, and the data acquisition was completed May 2012. The project resulted in two PhD theses and journal papers on the study’s outcomes are being finalized.
- PhD thesis: 4 finalized, 1 ongoing
- MSc Thesis: 5 finalized, 1 ongoing
- Research year projects: 2 finalized, 1 ongoing
- BSc Thesis: 2 finalized
FSS (Frie Forskningsråd | Sundhed og Sygdom)
The Lundbeck Foundation
Hvidovre Hospital's Research Foundation
Faculty of Health Sciences (SUND), University of Copenhagen
Institute of Psychology, University of Copenhagen
Savværksejer Jeppe Juhl og Hustru Evita Juhls mindelegat