November 29, 2011

The Vanderbilt Kennedy Center awards four 2011 Hobbs Discovery Grants

Vanderbilt Kennedy Center Director Elisabeth Dykens, Ph.D., announced that four 2011 Nicholas Hobbs Discovery Grants have been awarded to interdisciplinary teams led by VKC researchers.

Nicholas Hobbs Discovery Grants, made possible by the generosity of donors, provide essential seed funding that contributes to the discovery of new knowledge to improve the lives of individuals with disabilities and their families. Discovery Grants allow VKC investigators to gather novel data that will strengthen their ideas and help them gain a competitive edge in obtaining larger federal or foundation grants.

Neuroplasticity-based cognitive remediation in adolescent survivors of brain cancer

• Sohee Park, Ph.D. (Psychology), co-PI; Bruce Compas, Ph.D. (Psychology & Human Development), co-PI; Matthew Pearson, M.D. (Neurological Surgery), co-I; Jennifer Thigpen, Ph.D. (Psychiatry), co-I

Adolescent survivors of childhood brain tumors show deficits in frontal lobe functions. Because major changes in brain maturation and connectivity occur during adolescence, this a critical period for possible remediation. The project will test the feasibility, acceptability and initial efficacy of a neuroplasticity-based cognitive training, using a computer-based intervention administered at home. The hypothesis tested is whether the training will improve attention and memory skills and enhance frontal cortical activity.

Novel MRI biomarkers for early detectors of Alzheimer pathology in Down syndrome

• Tricia Thornton-Wells, Ph.D. (Molecular Physiology & Biophysics), PI; Manus Donahue, Ph.D. (Radiology), Collaborator; Tracy McGregor, M.D. (Pediatrics), Collaborator

Individuals with Down syndrome are at greatly increased risk for early-onset Alzheimer disease (AD). To date, only a few drugs are FDA-approved for treatment of AD symptoms, all of which are most effective in the earliest stages. Thus, early identification of AD-related neuropathology is of great importance, and clinical trials require sensitive biomarkers for measuring treatment efficacy. This study will investigate the novel application of two MRI sequences-T1-rho and T2* weighted imaging-for the detection of early, preclinical changes in brain structured related to AD pathology.

Generation of a conditional DAGLipase KO mouse

• Danny Winder, Ph.D. (Molecular Physiology & Biophysics), PI; Roger Colbran, Ph.D. (Molecular Physiology & Biophysics), Co-I; Sachin Patel, M.D., Ph.D. (Psychiatry), Co-I

Endocannabinoids are a major class of retrograde signaling lipids in the CNS that play critical roles in the modulation of inhibitory and excitatory neurotransmission. Evidence suggests that the cannabinoid signaling system plays a critical role in learning and memory, anxiety and addiction; and also suggests a key developmental role. The two major identified endocannabinoids are 2-arachidonoyl glycerol (2-AG) and anandamide; 2-AG is synthesized by the enzyme DAG-lipaseα (dlga; DAGLα). This project involves generating a conditional knockout mouse of DAGLα though the generation of a DAGLα “floxed” allele from already existing ES cell lines. The combination of this mouse with available viral and transgenic CRE driver lines will allow multiple VKC mission-relevant projects to be developed.

Investigating the relationship between syntax and rhythm in Specific Language Impairment

• Paul Yoder, Ph.D. (Special Education), PI; Alexandra Key, Ph.D. (Hearing & Speech Sciences), Co-I; Reyna Gordon, Ph.D. (VKC), Co-I

Recent work suggests that syntactic processing, the primary affected language skill in Specific Language Impairment (SLI) can be modulated by synchronization of brain responses to rhythmically regular speech. This project aims to estimate the magnitude of the relationship between (a) rhythmic processing and (b) selected linguistic abilities in children with (SLI). Secondarily, psychometric characteristics of EEG/ERP measures of rhythmic and syntactic processing will be collected. This innovative paradigm will begin to lay the groundwork for an evidence- and brain-based approach that capitalizes on musical and speech rhythm to treat linguistic impairments.