Rebecca Brady

Program: Neurosciences

Current advisor: Christopher D. Smyser, MD

Undergraduate university: Duke University

Research summary
My thesis research is focused on understanding the early brain function underlying callous-unemotional traits, 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
Brady RG, Rogers CE, Prochaska T, Kaplan S, Lean RE, Smyser TA, Shimony JS, Slavich GM, Warner BB, Barch DM, Luby JL, Smyser CD. 2022 The Effects of Prenatal Exposure to Neighborhood Crime on Neonatal Functional Connectivity. Biol Psychiatry, 92(2):139-48.

Brenner RG, Wheelock MD, Neil JJ, Smyser CD. 2022 Structural and functional connectivity in premature neonates. Semin Perinatol, 45(7):151473.

Brady RG, Donohue MR, Waller R, Tillman R, Gilbert KE, Whalen DJ, Rogers CE, Barch DM, Luby JL. 2022 Maternal emotional intelligence and negative parenting affect are independently associated with callous-unemotional traits in preschoolers. Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry, ():.

Lean RE, Smyser CD, Brady RG, Triplett RL, Kaplan S, Kenley JK, Shimony JS, Smyser TA, Miller JP, Barch DM, Luby JL, Warner BB, Rogers CE. 2022 Prenatal exposure to maternal social disadvantage and psychosocial stress and neonatal white matter connectivity at birth. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA, 119(42):e2204135119.

Cyr PEP, Lean RE, Kenley JK, Kaplan S, Meyer DE, Neil JJ, Alexopoulos D, Brady RG, Shimony JS, Rodebaugh TL, Rogers CE, Smyser CD. 2022 Neonatal motor functional connectivity and motor outcomes at age two years in very preterm children with and without high-grade brain injury. Neuroimage Clin, 36():103260.

Barch DM, Hua X, Kandala S, Harms MP, Sanders A, Brady R, Tillman R, Luby JL. 2022 White matter alterations associated with lifetime and current depression in adolescents: Evidence for cingulum disruptions. Depress Anxiety, 39(12):881-890.

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.