Research in the Clinical Neuropsychology Laboratory is primarily aimed at increasing our understanding of the cognitive and neural processes underlying typical and atypical development.  By making systematic comparisons across various etiologies of brain dysfunction and across different epochs of the life-span, it is our hope that a comprehensive model of neurocognitive development may be constructed that accounts for functional outcomes resulting from brain damage and resulting from uncompromised life-span development. The long-term goal of our research is to facilitate the design and implementation of more effective rehabilitation strategies to improve cognition, daily function, and quality of life for children and adults with brain injury. 

Within this context, much of our work focuses on the development of cognitive abilities in children with neurodevelopmental disorders (primarily autism, but also other disorders such as phenylketonuria).  In our research, we tend to utilize a broad range of measures and technologies, which represent an integration of experimental psychology, clinical neuropsychology, and cognitive neuroscience.  For example, we use standardized neuropsychological measures (e.g., the Delis-Kaplin Executive Function System; DKEFS) as well as experimental measures (e.g., go/no-go inhibitory task) to assess cognitive functioning.  From a technological standpoint, our research can involve custom-designed computer tasks, eye movement monitoring, and/or 3-dimensional hand movement tracking. It all depends on what the best approach/method is for answering the current research question.

In addition to conducting behavioral studies, we also utilize neuroimaging techniques to better elucidate the neural substrates of cognition in individuals with and without early brain injury.  Along these lines, we recently completed a study looking at functional connectivity and structural integrity in the prefrontal cortex in children with phenylketonuria (PKU), and we are currently conducting a study that will utilize a combination of functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), structural MRI, and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) to evaluate the integrity of the prefrontal cortex in adolescents with autism.

<View examples of the type of information and images that MRI provides>

Several recent developments at the University of Missouri have made it an exciting time for the laboratory.  In 2008, the Department of Psychological Sciences (home to the CNL) opened its own Brain Imaging Center (BIC) that houses a research-dedicated, state-of-the-art 3T Siemens Trio MRI scanner.  In addition, MU recently established the Thompson Center, a $9 million research center for the study of autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders, with the goal of bringing together the expertise and resources of top clinicians and researchers at the University to address the growing epidemic of autism.  In this spirit, Dr. Christ and the CNL are currently collaborating with several other faculty (e.g., Dr. Steve Kanne, Dr. David Beversdorf, Dr. Janine Stichter) from the Thompson Center to look at a range of issues related to autism including pharmaceutical intervention, genetic stress markers, cognitive behavioral intervention, and detection of sub-threshold autistic symptoms in young adults.

<View a list of recent publications based on our research>