BrainsCAN is bringing the world’s most promising early career cognitive neuroscientists to Western University through the Postdoctoral Fellowship Program. Training the next generation of researchers is a key aim of BrainsCAN, and its fellows are the engines of innovative research.
In fall 2017, the first set of fellows joined the program under the designation of a BrainsCAN Fellow or Postdoctoral Associate.
Learn about the BrainsCAN Fellows and their research.
Current BrainsCAN Fellows:
Justine Cléry, Marta De Felice, Sarah Hayes, Priya Kalra, Pan Liu, Cassandra Lowe, Daniel Miller, Aline Miranda, Mina Nashed, Emily Nichols, Ana Luísa Pinho, Nichole Scheerer, Ashley Schormans, Mojtaba Soltanlou, Kasey Van Hedger, Eric Wilkey
PhD, Neurosciences and Cognition - Université Claude Bernard Lyon I, France
Ultra-high field functional mapping of the brain circuits serving understanding social interactions and actions in NHPsSupervisor(s): Dr. Stefan Everling, Dr. Andrew Pruszynski
Interactions with our environment and others give us access to physical properties of objects and help recognizing others’ mental, emotional, and intentional states. Recognizing social interactions and their meanings is crucial in human and non-human primate societies. Indeed, this process helps the ‘observer’ to understand the consequences of some actions, e.g. play or fight, and infer how to behave for its own safety and well-being, e.g. submissive behaviors in front of a dominant subject or grooming behaviors with a peer. Importantly, deficits in social interaction are often observed in individuals with neuropsychiatric disorders such as Autism Spectrum Disorders. It is essential to understand the brain mechanisms behind these behaviors to better understand their deficits. The aim of my current research is to identify the brain networks involved in social cognition and action in NHP by using the technique of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).
PhD in Neuroscience - University of Cagliari (Italy)
Investigating the neurodevelopmental aberrations on hippocampal formation induced by adolescent THC exposureSupervisor(s): Dr. Steve Laviolette, Dr. Walter Rushlow, Dr. Shawn Whitehead
The recent legalization of cannabis for both medicinal and recreational purposes has altered the perception of risks, resulting in a sustained increase of cannabis use mainly among adolescents. This trend is concerning given that sustained consumption of marijuana during such vulnerable neurodevelopmental window has been associated with a wide range of long-lasting cognitive impairments and enhanced risks for neuropsychiatric diseases, such as schizophrenia, anxiety and mood disorders. In addition, emerging evidence has pointed out critical sex-related differences in neuropathological outcomes induced by marijuana consumption. In this study, the impairments in cognitive and affective processing will be investigated in a translational rodent model of adolescent cannabis exposure. Using a multi-level approach, cognitive performances, anxiety and psychiatric-like manifestations will be evaluated, concomitant with a detailed examination of molecular biomarkers and neural activity in selected brain regions relevant for cognition and neuropsychiatric disorders. The findings obtained by the proposed research will enhance our knowledge on the neurobiological mechanisms underlying the side effects of cannabis exposure on the adolescent brains in both genders and will aid in developing novel potential pharmacotherapeutic strategies to reverse the cannabis-related pathology.
PhD, Neuroscience and AuD, Audiology - University at Buffalo
Neuroinflammatory Regulation of Noise-Induced Auditory and Cognitive ImpairmentSupervisor(s): Dr. Brian Allman, Dr. Shawn Whitehead, Dr. Wataru Inoue
Hearing loss is one of the most prevalent chronic health conditions, affecting more than 1.2 billion people worldwide. It is well-recognized that excessive exposure to loud noise, resulting from environmental (e.g., city noise), recreational (e.g., loud music) and occupational (e.g., industry workers) insults, is a leading cause of permanent hearing loss. Beyond the devastating effects of hearing impairment itself, there is clear evidence that loud noise exposure also leads to pathology in brain regions both within and beyond the auditory pathway. For example, noise exposure can cause aberrant auditory perceptions such as tinnitus (i.e., “ringing in the ears”), as well as cognitive impairments in learning and memory tasks that do not depend on the auditory system. While the neural mechanisms contributing to noise-induced tinnitus and cognitive impairment remain elusive, accumulating evidence suggests that neuroinflammation plays an important role in mediating the brain plasticity thought to underlie these disorders. Using a combination of cell-specific in vivo neuroimaging and auditory/cognitive behavioural testing, my research aims to reveal how noise-induced neuroinflammation leads to aberrant neural activity in areas of the brain that control auditory perception, learning, memory and other higher-order cognitive functions. Ultimately, this work will address our crucial need to better understand the adverse effects of noise exposure on brain health.
EdD, Human Development and Education - Harvard Graduate School of Education
The role of the medial temporal lobe in implicit learning: mechanisms and representationsSupervisor(s): Dr. Paul Minda, Dr. Laura Batterink, Dr. Mark Joanisse
Implicit learning—that is, learning without effort or awareness of what has been learned—plays an important role in many domains, including first language acquisition. There is increasing evidence that developing expertise or fluency in these domains involves not only the accumulation of information, but changes in the way that information is represented. For example, experts emphasize relevant features over irrelevant features and often use higher-order representations of the stimuli (such as “chunks”). However, the computational and neural mechanisms of these representational changes are not well understood. I will use a combination of behavioral, computational, and neuroimaging techniques to characterize these shifts. Understanding these changes in representation is critical to designing more effective methods of instruction and training.
PhD, Communication Sciences & Disorders - McGill University
The effect of attention bias training on adolescent internalizing problems: Neurobehavioral predictors and mechanismSupervisor(s): Dr. Elizabeth Hayden, Dr. Marc Joanisse
Adolescence is a critical period with respect to mental health problems, as depressive and anxious symptoms rapidly increase at this time. Subthreshold adolescent symptoms can evolve into clinically significant manifestations of disorder, resulting in personal suffering and placing serious demands on familial, social, and medical resources. Therefore, identifying etiological factors that place youth at risk, particularly ones that are modifiable, is crucial toward prevention. Maladaptive biases in attention play a causal role in risk and also appear amenable to early intervention, although specific attention components and their brain correlates are poorly understood. We will therefore use cutting-edge tools to examine the neural and attentional components that characterize at-risk youth, and will use an attention training paradigm to examine change in these related to prevention. Our findings will directly contribute to knowledge on the etiology of depression and anxiety and contribute to more efficient and cost-effective earlier prevention.
PhD, Public Health and Health Systems - University of Waterloo
Determining the neural circuits underlying excessive food intake in adolescents and young adultsSupervisor(s): Dr. J. Bruce Morton, Dr. Lindsay Bodell
The sustained and excessive consumption of calorie-dense foods is the leading cause of preventable chronic disease and premature death worldwide. Limiting the consumption of these foods is therefore essential to maintain optimal health. However, in the modern food-rich environment, maintaining a healthy diet has become a difficult endeavor. The environment is saturated with unhealthy ultra-processed calorie-dense foods (those high in saturated fats and sugar), and these foods are often cheaper than their healthier counterparts. This is coupled with omnipresent cues, in the form of media advertisements, to consume these foods. While some individuals find it really difficult to control calorie-dense food consumption in this environment, others are more adept. My research seeks to understand why some individuals are more prone to overconsumption than others. Specifically, my body of research seeks to understand the neural circuits underlying vulnerability to over consumption, with the particular focus on how the prefrontal cortex regulates reward circuits in the brain to modulate consumptive behaviours across developmental contexts. By delineating these neurobiological processes, we will be able to identify the subtle cognitive and neural markers that increase the propensity to overeat. This would enable researchers and clinicians to identify those individuals that may be more likely to respond to a given intervention and provide the foundational work necessary to develop novel evidence-based interventions.
Trends in Cognitive Sciences: Review suggests a reciprocal relationship between obesity and self-control
The Lancet: Adolescents prone to poor dietary choices, leading to changes in the brain
PhD, Psychology - Vanderbilt University
Validation and application of structural markers of auditory cortex to study crossmodal plasticitySupervisor(s): Dr. Blake Butler, Dr. Ali Khan
Auditory cortex (AUD) is critical to our perception of spoken language, and the crossmodal plasticity that follows hearing impairment to improve visual perception impedes hearing restoration. Hearing impairment makes it impossible to functionally localize AUD with noninvasive magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) methods in order to understand the crossmodal plasticity that follows deafening. Structural MRI (sMRI) methods are thus needed to study the reorganization of AUD as it undergoes crossmodal plasticity following hearing impairment. Current imaging studies are increasingly using myelin to map the brain because MRI methods can measure how it restricts the movement of water. My previous work has shown that subregions of AUD differ markedly in quantitative myelin content, and recent imaging work confirms this agreement using structural and functional MRI in humans. This project establishes the precision of myelin as a structural marker of AUD in an animal model and then pilots the use of this method to study crossmodal reorganization in humans with hearing impairment. These results will fill a major gap in our understanding of the mechanisms of crossmodal plasticity by developing, validating, and applying the first structural marker of AUD to study the brain as it undergoes reorganization following hearing impairment.
PhD, Neuroscience and Neuroinflammation - Cleveland Clinic, Lerner Research Institute
Targeting the epichaperome to improve cognitive deficits in mouse models of synucleinopathiesSupervisor(s): Dr. Marco Prado, Dr. Vania Prado
Parkinson’s disease (PD) and Lewy body dementia (LBD) are neurodegenerative disorders characterized by accumulation of misfolded α-synuclein aggregates in the central nervous system. With improvements in the management of motor symptoms in recent decades, non-motor features of these synucleinopathies are now a major cause of morbidity, especially cognitive deficits. The molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying PD and LBD-associated cognitive decline remain to be fully revealed. Chaperones and co-chaperones assist protein folding, stability and degradation. Epichaperomes are maladaptive protein networks reflecting abnormal connectivity of chaperones with their interactomes. Multiple chaperones, including Hsp90, Hsp70 and their co-chaperone STIP1, interact with α-synuclein, supporting the notion that abnormal chaperone activity may contribute to the pathogenesis of synucleinopathies. Chaperones also influence the stability and the activation of several proteins related to signal transduction and immunity. For instance, the chaperone Hsp90 prevents the degradation of the NLRP3 inflammasome, a group of cytosolic multiprotein complexes mainly expressed in macrophages/microglia that recognize several stimuli, triggering innate inflammatory processes. Herein, by using transgenic mice expressing the mutant A53T human α-synuclein in neurons as a model of synucleinopathies and high-throughput touchscreen tests we aim to investigate whether epichaperome and NLRP3 inflammasome act synergistically to accelerate PD and LBD-associated cognitive decline.
PhD, Medical Sciences - McMaster University
Examining the effects of prenatal THC exposure on prefrontal-hippocampal interactions and long-term cognitive developmentSupervisor(s): Dr. Steven Laviolette, Dr. Daniel Hardy, Dr. Walter Rushlow
Up to 20% of pregnant women self-report using cannabis during pregnancy. With recent decriminalization and progressive legalization of recreational cannabis in North America, this figure is projected to increase. While the THC component of cannabis has been shown to impair fetal growth in clinical populations and animal models, our understanding of the developmental effects, and associated neural pathways, of maternal cannabis consumption is currently lacking. This project will address this knowledge gap in a model of prenatal cannabis exposure. Specifically, the effects of cannabis constituents on cognition (e.g. learning and memory) will be investigated at the levels of behaviour, neural pathways, and brain structures. The goal of this project is to improve postnatal developmental outcomes and inform public awareness of the risks associated with prenatal cannabis consumption.
PhD, Psychology - Western University
Functional connectivity in fetal growth restriction: association with delivery times and long-term language outcomesSupervisor(s): Dr. Emma Duerden, Dr. Sandrine de Ribaupierre
Intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR) is a serious condition where the placenta stops growing late in pregnancy, limiting oxygen to the fetal brain. In the early stages of IUGR, blood flow is still being directed to the frontal lobes. Later, however, blood is directed to midbrain areas important for keeping the fetus alive. This redistribution referred to as ‘brain sparing’. Brain sparing can result in severe brain injury, with adverse consequences for cognitive function, including language. For these fetuses, early delivery can prevent death; however premature birth also comes at a cost. The neonatal ICU is a stressful environment, and preterm babies are at risk of both short- and long-term health issues. Objective measures to guide decisions regarding delivery time to maximize developmental outcomes are crucial to neonatal care in this population. My research aims to evaluate whether brain sparing is associated with decreased functional and structural connectivity in the language network in utero, and if connectivity measures are associated with language outcomes at 12- and 24-months. By using MRI-based methods to monitor fetuses at risk for IUGR, and following the developmental trajectory of the newborns, I aim to improve newborn brain health and cognitive outcomes, specifically later language development.
PhD, Biomedical Sciences - University of Coimbra, Coimbra, Portugal and Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden
Novel brain atlasing techniques to reveal cerebellar role in music cognitionSupervisor(s): Dr. Joern Diedrichsen, Dr. Jessica Grahn
Understanding the role of the cerebellum in human cognition asks for the functional mapping of its territories upon performance of a wide array of behavioral tasks. To this end, functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) has been used to measure brain activation related to specific behaviors as means to extensively characterize functional responses in the cerebellar circuitry. The overlap of the neural substrates across tasks can elucidate us about the contribution of the cerebellum to brain processes directly linked to elementary mental functions. Herein, we will adopt this cognitive-atlasing approach to investigate the interplay of the cortico-cerebellar circuits in the domain of music cognition. We will generate a large-scale task-fMRI dataset comprising both the Multi-Domain Task Battery—which covers a broad range of cognitive modules—and a new set of musical tasks dedicated to specifically assessing different music abilities. This resource will allow us to determine the common basis and relationship between music and general cognition as well as obtain a systematic picture of the involvement of cerebellar regions in these neurocognitive mechanisms. Moreover, the dataset will be made publicly available in dedicated neuroimaging repositories, in order to become the groundwork for the development of cognitive brain-atlasing infrastructures targeting the human cerebellum.
PhD, Philosophy – Wilfrid Laurier University
The impact of sensory-motor control of speech on social communication and development in children with and without Autism Spectrum Disorders across the lifespanSupervisor(s): Dr. Ryan Stevenson, Dr. Janis Cardy, Dr. David Purcell
Speech is arguably the most important form of human communication. Since the goal of speech production is the transfer of information, speech production must be carefully regulated to ensure the desired information is conveyed. During speech production sensory feedback, such as auditory feedback, plays an important role in maintaining the fluidity of speech, as it allows speech motor movements to be monitored and production errors to be detected and corrected. A major focus of my research program is investigating how the role of sensory feedback in the control of speech changes throughout development in individuals with and without autism spectrum disorder. I am also interested in how the ability to extract and utilize the information contained in sensory feedback influences the development of higher-order cognitive processes such as speech communication, emotion regulation, and social competence.
PhD, Neurobiology and Neurosciences, Western University
The Neural Basis of Audiovisual Temporal Perception: From Cortical Networks to Cellular MechanismsSupervisor(s): Dr. Brian Allman, Dr. Wataru Inoue
To form a coherent perception of the world around us, we are constantly processing and integrating sensory information from multiple modalities. In fact, when auditory and visual stimuli occur within ~100 ms of each other, individuals tend to perceive the stimuli as a single event, even though they occurred at separately. Although this integration of closely-timed audiovisual stimuli can offer certain behavioral advantages, an overly broad window of temporal integration can be problematic (e.g., in autism and schizophrenia), as information from truly separate events may not be perceived correctly. While recent studies in humans have suggested that the binding of audiovisual stimuli is regulated by neural oscillations, the brain circuits and cellular mechanisms that regulate the putative oscillatory activity subserving audiovisual perceptual binding remains unknown. Using our translational behavioural task in combination with optogenetics and in vivo electrophysiology, my research aims to uncover the mechanisms by which inhibitory neurotransmission finely controls audiovisual perception. Ultimately, these studies will significantly advance our understanding of the neuronal circuitry underlying audiovisual temporal perception, and will be the first to establish the role of interneurons in regulating the synchronized neural activity that is thought to contribute to the precise binding of audiovisual stimuli.
PhD, Neuroscience – University of Tübingen
How do we know 'two' but not 'three' means '●●' objects? Neural correlates of symbolic number knowledge in preschoolersSupervisor(s): Dr. Daniel Ansari, Dr. Marc Joanisse
One of the most critical quests of developmental and cognitive neuroscientists is the discovery of the origin of human knowledge. One type of knowledge, which is the most important basis of academic achievement, is symbolic number knowledge: children understand each number word is associated with a respective quantity. Children initially develop this understanding of the meaning of the numbers around 2-3 years old. Uncovering the underlying mechanism of symbolic number knowledge leads to better insights about cognitive development and individual differences in humans. In a longer perspective, this understanding might help for earlier diagnoses and more effective interventions in children at risk for learning disorders, particularly developmental dyscalculia (i.e., mathematical disability). In a longitudinal project, neural correlates of acquisition of symbolic number knowledge will be tracked in preschoolers from age 3 to 5 years. Functional organization of particular brain regions such as intraparietal sulci and functional connectivity between these brain regions will be measured using functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), as one of the most appropriate neuroimaging techniques in young children.
PhD, Psychology - University of Chicago
Examining striatal-mediated cognitive function in patients with substance use and obsessive-compulsive disordersSupervisor(s): Dr. Penny MacDonald, Dr. Ali Khan, Dr. Adrian Owen
Substance use disorder (SUD) and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) are common psychiatric illnesses categorized by abnormal thoughts (i.e., cravings or obsessions) that motivate habitual behaviors and can cause distress and dysfunction. Prior studies have found that patients with SUD and OCD have abnormalities in brain regions involved in learning and reward processing (e.g., the striatum), specifically those that rely on the neurotransmitter dopamine. Notably, these same regions are heavily affected in Parkinson’s disease (PD), either because of the disease itself or because of the treatment. Our research takes a novel approach to studying SUD and OCD by using techniques that have been developed in studies of PD patients and healthy controls, like structural and functional MRI and pharmacological manipulations of dopamine. The goal of this project is to uncover the neural basis for symptoms that are shared across striatum-involved disorders by using similar methods and comparing results from patients with SUD, OCD, and PD. This approach has the potential to inform more effective treatments.
PhD, Neuroscience - Vanderbilt University
Executive functions of numerical information in single-subjects at 7-TeslaSupervisor(s): Dr. Daniel Ansari, Dr. Ravi Menon
One quarter of the population has such difficulty learning mathematics that it impairs their ability to use information effectively in adult life. What causes some students to struggle with math? Brain imaging research has begun to shed light on how the brain processes numerical information. However, little is known about how this information is integrated across the brain systems important for math learning, such as memory and attention. With this fellowship, I will conduct a series of studies that provide detailed information about the brain mechanisms that support math skills. First, using ultra-high field 7T magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), I will begin to answer questions about how the brain solves math problems at the individual level. This is an important advance because behavioural research shows that children with math learning difficulties are very different from one another. Second, I will investigate the possibility of subtypes of math learning disability with children who have been identified to need math remediation. To do this, I will identify subgroups of individuals with similar cognitive profiles and compare neural signatures of these cognitive profiles. Research in this area will pave the way to improved pedagogical techniques, diagnosis of learning disabilities, and remediation of deficits.
Former BrainsCAN Fellows
Rotman Research Institute (Baycrest)
University of Toronto
BrainsCAN Fellow (2018 - 2020)
PhD, Psychology - University of Leipzig, Germany
BrainsCAN Fellow (2018 - 2019)
Uncovering the neural representations of the intentions that drive action, and the role of intentional action in social settings
Supervisor(s): Jody Culham, Mel Goodale
PhD, Psychology (Cognitive Science) - University of British Columbia
University of Adelaide
BrainsCAN Fellow (2019 - 2020)
Defining nutritional influences on neural network structure and function across development
Supervisor(s): Dr. Lisa Saksida, Dr. Ravi Menon
PhD, Behavioural Neuroscience - Cardiff University