Rebecca Brady

  • Charlotte, NC

  • Duke U. (2016)

  • Neurosciences

  • Christopher D. Smyser, M.D.

  • Neonatal Functional Brain Connectivity Associated with Callous-Unemotional Behaviors in Preschoolers



My thesis research is focused on understanding the early brain function underlying callous-unemotional behaviors, which are defined by empathy deficits, a lack of guilt, and insensitivity to punishment. Empathy and prosociality undergo a period of rapid development in toddlerhood and callous-unemotional behaviors have been observed in preschoolers as early as age 3. These early callous-unemotional behaviors are associated with a higher risk of proactive aggression and antisocial personality disorder in longitudinal studies, which underscores the importance of studying their pathophysiology. It is crucial to know whether functional brain alterations in emotion processing and emotion regulation regions, which are observed in older children with callous-unemotional behaviors, precede the onset of symptoms. Therefore, I am investigating whether brain changes in the neonatal period predict the onset of callous-unemotional symptoms in preschoolers. There is evidence that brain differences might occur early because callous-unemotional traits are highly heritable, with many neurotransmitter gene variants implicated in this disorder. Given this heritability, I plan to (1) investigate whether differences in neonatal brain function are present in infants born to parents with higher callous-unemotional traits; (2) examine whether neonatal brain differences predict callous-unemotional behaviors at age 3 years; and (3) determine whether neonatal brain function mediates the link between parental and child callous-unemotional traits. Better understanding the developmental neurobiology of callous-unemotional traits is the first step towards early identification of at-risk children and the development of effective, biologically informed therapies.

Graduate Publications:

Brenner RG, Smyser CD, Lean RE, Kenley JK, Smyser TA, Cyr PEP, Shimony JS, Barch DM, Rogers CE. 2021 Microstructure of the Dorsal Anterior Cingulum Bundle in Very Preterm Neonates Predicts the Preterm Behavioral Phenotype at 5 Years of Age. Biol Psychiatry, 89(5):433-42.

Last Updated: 7/2/2021 3:22:40 PM

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