Learning new skills and behaviors is crucial for normal development across the life span. To enable adaptive learning, executive functions, a set of cognitive skills such as working memory or attentional control, are essential. We want to investigate the underlying brain circuits of executive functions and help to better understand and predict learning impairments. Patients with congenital heart disease (CHD) serve as a clinical model due to their risk for impaired executive functions and altered brain structure.
In this project, we investigate alterations in brain circuits in patients with CHD by processing diffusion MRI data and estimating their brain connectomes (see also our project on brain connectomes). Further, we determine executive function performance and calculate a cumulative clinical risk score.
Our data indicates that patients who face more risk factors over time (e.g., low oxygen saturation before surgery, prolonged stay on intensive care unit, and having a seizure) demonstrate lower executive function performance and altered brain networks. Their brain networks tend to be less strong and neighboring brain regions are less well connected. In a next step, we will also investigate the influence of environmental resilience factors. Thereby, this project will advance our understanding of the brain behavior connections and of associated risk and resilience factors.
The processing of the comprehensive set of cognitive and MRI data will need complex analyses of high-dimensional data. This will be done in collaboration with the HDDA platform seed.
Postdoc: Melanie Ehrler
Principal investigators: Bea Latal, András Jakab