CIDD Investigators to Study Repetitive Behaviors in Autism

October 31, 2011

CIDD Associate Director Dr. James Bodfish and CIDD investigator Dr. Gabriel Dichter have been awarded a 5-year grant from NIMH to continue their program of research investigating restricted repetitive behaviors and interests in autism. The project will focus on a distinct subtype of repetitive behaviors called circumscribed interests. Circumscribed interests are nearly universal in autism, are clinically impairing, and are characterized by intense focus on a narrow range of subject areas and by the rigid organization of activities exclusively around these interests (e.g., collecting, manipulating, excessive question-asking, etc). This research will examine the neurobiology of circumscribed interests by linking behavioral manifestations of symptoms with measures derived from functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), affect-modulated psychophysiology, and eyetracking approaches with a particular focus on the functional integrity of brain reward circuitry. By contrasting neurobiological and behavioral profiles in adolescents with autism (both low and high functioning) with adolescents with obsessive compulsive disorders and with typical development, Drs. Bodfish and Dichter are aiming to determine which types of repetitive behaviors are clinically significant and unique in autism. Answering these questions would refine diagnostic practice, would focus the search for specific genetic, neurobiologic, and cognitive mechanisms of autism, and would ultimately direct the development of novel forms of treatment for autism. This investigation will leverage collaborations with Dr. John March, Director of the Division of Neurosciences Medicine at the Duke Clinical Research Institute, Dr. Noah Sasson, Assistant Professor in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences at UT-Dallas and former CIDD T32 trainee, and Dr. Lauren Turner-Brown, a CIDD investigator. These research efforts will also dovetail with a number of student projects, including the dissertation projects of Cara Damiano (supported by an Autism Speaks Weatherstone Predoctoral Fellowship) in the Clinical Psychology program and Anna Sabatino in the Developmental Psychology Program, as well as the undergraduate psychology honors thesis projects of Joey Aloi and Ryan Delapp.