The Labs of Cognitive Neuroscience
Immune Functions, Steroids, and Memory & Brain Development
In this study, we are interested in learning about how hormones released when we are sick, as well as steroids used to treat certain autoimmune illnesses, may affect brain development in children. In particular, we are investigating how these factors may affect memory and executive functions--the skills we use to plan and regulate our behavior--both of which are important to a child's functioning at school and at home.
Eligibility for study participation:
We are currently seeking children ages 8-16
- who are healthy and typically developing
- who have Crohn's disease (an inflammatory autoimmune disease of the digestive tract).
Participants will come to the lab for a neuropsychological assessment (routinely used in clinical care) and complete tests of memory and general cognitive ability. We will then record each child's brain activity (or EEG) while he or she tries to learn and remember photographs shown on a computer screen. In a separate session, children will also be asked to play similar learning games during functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), a non-invasive tool to measure brain activity which will allow us to study brain differences between sick and healthy children.
Memory and executive functions--the skills we use to plan and regulate our behavior--are fundamental building blocks of a child's learning and adaptive functioning, both at school and at home. These functions may be influenced by hormones and immune cells we release when feeling sick. Usually, our immune system is programmed to quickly fight infection and then return to "rest" again. However, in certain conditions such as autoimmune illnesses, the immune system overreacts and can't return to "rest." These overreacting immune cells, as well as the steroids used to treat them, can affect brain regions critical for learning and memory. Children with autoimmune illnesses, therefore, may be t particular risk for cognitive and behavioral problems based on both their underlying illness and the therapies used to treat them.
In the current study we are looking at the brain effects of the immune response and steroids on learning in both ill and healthy children. Understanding more about these effects will help doctors who are treating sick children to learn more about how the immune system acts on the brain and to find safer therapies for children dealing with these types of illnesses. We also hope to help families find ways to manage their child's learning and school functioning when their child is sick, in pain, and/or taking steroids.
If you are interested in participating with your child, please e-mail Kristin Maletsky or call 617-355-7908.