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April 13, 2009

NIH Awards CCNY Neuroscientists $2.8 Million To Study Multisensory Integration Deficits In Autism Patients

NEW YORK, April 13, 2009 – Drs. Sophie Molholm and John Foxe, neuroscientists at The City College of New York (CCNY), have been awarded $2.8 million over five years from the National Institute of Mental Heath of the National Institutes of Health to study whether and how multisensory integration – the nervous system’s integration of different sensory stimuli – is impaired in persons with autism.

“Atypical integration of multisensory inputs has been suggested as a major component of autism,” said Dr. Molholm, an Associate Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience at CCNY.  “If we can learn when and where in the neural processing stream these sensory integration deficits occur, this knowledge will play an essential role in defining the neuropathology of autism.”

She and Dr. Foxe, a Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience at CCNY and Director of the College’s graduate program in Cognitive Neuroscience, intend to compare multisensory integration in subjects with autism with that in healthy control subjects.  By obtaining high-density electrical recordings of neural activity, they will be able to precisely measure when in the information processing stream sensory integration differs.

Their specific hypotheses about when and where multisensory processes are affected in autism are based on a thesis that there is weakened connectivity between distant cortical regions in this population.  Their predictions are predicated on a three-stage model of multisensory integration they have developed in light of current literature.

“The data acquired under this project will provide a strong empirical test of deficits in multisensory integration processes in autism,” said Professor Foxe.  “But, we also need to understand how multisensory integration develops and changes over childhood in order to establish useful models that can provide an initial benchmark against which predictions about disorders can be made.

“In order to understand how sensory integration goes awry in such patients, we must first develop a clear understanding of how the healthy brain integrates auditory, visual and somatosensory inputs.”  To achieve that, the researchers will set out to delineate the developmental trajectory of the neurophysiological processes underlying multisensory processing in children between ages six and 15. 

The findings will be used to test the integrity of multisensory processes in children with autism.  The results of those tests will have implications for clinical management of persons with autism as well as for models of autism.  Professor Foxe noted that failures in multisensory integration are thought to be a core deficit not only in autism, but also in other clinical conditions, including schizophrenia.   

More information on this project and how to participate can be found at the website of the Children’s Research Unit at CCNY: www1.ccny.cuny.edu/ci/cru.

About The City College of New York
Since 1847 The City College of New York has provided low-cost, high-quality education for New Yorkers in a wide variety of disciplines.  Over 15,000 students pursue undergraduate and graduate degrees in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; The School of Architecture, Urban Design and Landscape Architecture (SAUDLA); The School of Education; The Grove School of Engineering, and The Sophie Davis School of Biomedical Education.  For additional information, visit www.ccny.cuny.edu.

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