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Margaret Sheridan
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Margaret Sheridan, PhD

Department: Division of Developmental Medicine
Research Centers: Developmental Medicine Research Center
Hospital Title: Research Associate
Academic Title: Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School
Research Area: Developmental Medicine

Research Overview

The goal of the Sheridan Lab research is to better understand the neural underpinnings of the development of executive functions across childhood and to understand how and why these mechanisms are affected in psychopathology. Specifically our research addresses these questions in three ways. First, we are investigating typical development of the frontal-striatal systems in children ages 5 through adolescence. Second, we study the role of experience in shaping that development using a combination of random assignment and observation of natural variation in experience. Finally, we are investigating the function of frontal-striatal systems in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and attempting to use this information to inform diagnosis. Future projects will attempt to link these research foci together to inform treatment of ADHD and to ensure better environments generally.

About Dr. Margaret Sheridan

Dr. Sheridan received her B.S. in psychology with honors from Michigan State University. In 2007 she received her Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley in Clinical Psychology. Her dissertation, jointly supervised by Drs. Mark D'Esposito and Stephen Hinshaw, focused on the function of the prefrontal cortex in ADHD. Following her clinical internship (Bellevue Hospital/NYU Child study Center) she was a Robert Wood Johnson Health and Society Scholar at Harvard's School of Public Health where she investigated the association between exposure to environments associated with socioeconomic status, stress reactivity, and function of the prefrontal cortex. During her time as an RWJ Scholar she established lasting collaborations with Dr. Charles Nelson (Harvard Medical School) and Dr. John Gabrieli (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). She is currently an Instructor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and the principal investigator in the Sheridan Lab. In addition, she is a visiting scientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dr. Sheridan's specific interests are in the development of the prefrontal cortex in typical and atypical (ADHD) populations. She uses neuroimaging (MRI, fMRI, ERP) and psychophysiology techniques to assess neural function and stress system reactivity.

Research Focus

Executive Functioning and the Prefrontal Cortex

The ability to plan and prepare for the future or apply rules in the present, sometimes called executive functioning, is a complicated and multifaceted ability. The component processes from which "planning" is constructed (e.g., working memory, inhibitory control, manipulation, and updating) have implications for a wide range of important behaviors from understanding language to quitting smoking. These cognitive functions are among the most important for navigating the world successfully as an adult. They include inhibiting stimulus bound behaviors, codifying hierarchical rules, and holding plans in mind. The prefrontal cortex, known to support these cognitive functions, has an extended developmental trajectory -- continuing to exhibit substantial pruning and myelination throughout middle childhood and adolescence. There are several gaps in the literature which aspects of my research program attempt to address:

(a) How do these cognitive functions develop across middle childhood and adolescence? To address this question we have a series of behavioral and neuroimaging investigations into the development of specific aspects of executive function.

(b) How do these cognitive functions contribute to typical variation in real world behaviors? To address this question we are measuring executive function and real world outcomes in the developing world (Liberia) where there is a great deal of variation in both cognitive predictors and real world behavior.

(c) How does environment impact neural architecture, particularly in the prefrontal cortex and associated with executive functioning? To address this question we are measuring variation in environment, executive function, and prefrontal function.

(d) How does knowledge about typical variation in executive functions and the impact of environment on the developing brain inform clinical practice in terms of diagnosis and treatment of ADHD? To address this question we are conducting a longitudinal study of very young children with ADHD to identify ways that neuroimaging can contribute to better diagnostic techniques between the ages of 3-5 years.


  • Buckner, RL, Wheeler, ME, and Sheridan, MA. (2001). Encoding processes during retrieval tasks. J of Cognitive Neuroscience, Vol 13(3), pg 406-15.
  • Zacks, JM, Braver, T, Sheridan, MA, Donaldson, DI, Snyder, AZ, Ollinger, JM, Buckner, RL, and Raichle, ME. (2001). Human brain activity time-locked to perceptual event boundaries. Nature Neuroscience, Vol 4(6), pg.651-655.
  • Zacks, JM, Sheridan, MA, and Ollinger, JM. (2002). A parametric study of mental spatial transformations of bodies, NeuroImage, Vol 16, pg.857-872.
  • Gazzaley, A, Sheridan, MA, and Cooney, J. (2007). Age-related deficits in component processes of working memory. Neuropsychology, Vol 21(5), pg. 532-539.
  • Sheridan, MA, Hinshaw, S, and D’Esposito, M. (2007). Efficiency of the prefrontal cortex during working memory in Attention-deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Vol 46(10), pg. 1357-66.
  • Cools, R, Sheridan, MA, Jacobs, E, and D’Esposito, M. (2007). Impulsive personality predicts dopamine-dependent changes in fronto-striatal activity during component processes of working memory. Journal of Neuroscience, Vol 27(20), pg 5506-14.
  • Cools R, Miyakawa A, Sheridan MA. D'Esposito M. (2010). Enhanced frontal function in Parkinson's disease. Brain, 133(Pt 1), pg 225-33.
  • Tottenham, N and Sheridan, MA. (2010). A review of adversity, the amygdala and the hippocampus: a consideration of developmental timing. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 3(4), pg 1-18.
  • McLaughlin, KA, Fox, NA, Zeanah, CH, Sheridan, MA, Marshall, PJ, and Nelson, CA. (2010). Delayed maturation in brain activity explains the association between early environmental deprivation and symptoms of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Biological Psychiatry, 68(4), 329-36.
  • Sheridan, MA, Hinshaw, S, and D’Esposito, M. (2010). An fMRI study of working memory on and off stimulant medication in adolescents with ADHD. Journal of Attention Disorders, 14(1), 69-78.
  • Finn, A, Sheridan, MA, Hinshaw, S, Hudson-Camm, C, and D’Esposito, M. (2010). Longitudinal evidence for functional specialization of the neural circuit supporting working memory in the human brain, Journal of Neuroscience, 30(33), 11062-7.
  • Sarsour, K, Sheridan, MA, Jutte, D, Nuru-Jeter, A, Hinshaw, S, Boyce, WT. (2011). Family socioeconomic status and child Executive Functions: The roles of language, home environment and single parenthood. Journal of International Neuropsychological Society, 17(1), 120-32.
  • Sheridan, MA, Drury, S, McLaughlin, K, Almas, A. (2010). Early institutionalization: neurobiological consequences and genetic modifiers. Neuropsychology Reviews, 20(4), 414-29.
  • Sheridan, MA & Nelson, C. (2009). Neurobiology of Fetal and Infant Development: Implications for Infant Mental Health. In Handbook of Infant Mental Health. (Ed) Charles H Zeanah.
  • Nelson, CA & Sheridan, MA (in press) Lessons from Neuroscience Research for Understanding Causal Links between Family and Neighborhood Characteristics and Educational Outcomes. In Social Inequality and Educational Disadvantage: Rethinking the Role of Neighborhoods and Families on Schools and School Outcomes for American Children. (Eds) Richard Murnane and Greg Duncan
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