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19 November 2019

Using CANTAB to characterize the development of cognition in a longitudinal neuroimaging cohort of healthy adolescents

Dr Qiang Luo, Associate Principal Investigator at the Institute of Science and Technology for Brain-inspired Intelligence - Fudan University, shared the role that CANTAB played in his latest publication: Adolescent binge drinking disrupts normal trajectories for brain functional organization and personality maturation.

Can you tell us more about your research group?

Launched in March 2015, the Institute of Science and Technology for Brain-inspired Intelligence (ISTBI) is an interdisciplinary research institute of Fudan University. We have now fully equipped ISTBI with state-of-art 3T and 7T MRI scanners as well as two specialized scanners, including a 3T Connectome for high quality diffusion images and a 11.3T scanner for small animals.

We have several collaborations with hospitals all over China, and strong international collaborations on population neuroscience, including with the University of Cambridge and King’s College London.

Our research focus is on multidisciplinary approaches to understanding optimal healthy adolescent brain development and resilience, as well as improving knowledge of neuropsychiatric disorders and their treatment.

Read our latest papers


What is the rationale behind your research?

To model the co-developing trajectories of the adolescent brain: personality, cognition, behaviour, and the interacting influence of genetic and environmental factors. The ultimate goal of this research is to inform public health policy, and assist in the development of novel targets for treatment of neuropsychiatric disorders.

Alcohol drinking is the second most frequent substance used by adolescents worldwide. Binge drinking during adolescence might be expected to have especially negative consequences on brain development, cognition and behaviour during this critical period of frontal lobe development. We investigated this hypothesis in one of our recently published studies. Previously published reports have found associations between alcohol use and genetic vulnerability, brain damage, other substance abuse, cognitive impairment, and personality dysfunction. Therefore, for this study, we have used brain imaging and genetic data from a well-characterized longitudinal cohort of adolescents, to investigate brain development and problems of impulsivity1.

Which methods did you use?

We used multivariate approaches to explore discriminative features in brain functional architecture, personality traits, and genetic variants in 19-year-old individuals (n = 212). Taking advantage of a longitudinal design, we selected features that were more drastically altered in drinkers with an earlier onset of binge drinking. With the selected features, we trained a hierarchical model of support vector machines using a training sample (n = 139). Using an independent sample (n = 73), we tested the model and achieved a classification accuracy of 71.2%.

What are your key findings?

We found that even if one stopped binge drinking at age 19 but binged between ages 14 and 16, the brain, especially the functional connectivity of the frontal areas, still has detectable changes compared to the non-binge drinking controls. Indeed, a history of binge drinking could be identified by multivariate features at age 19 years as adolescent binge drinking disrupted frontal connectivity maturation in the brain. The typical improvement of impulsiveness observed in non-binge drinking controls was found to slow down after the onset of adolescent binge drinking.

Why did you choose CANTAB?

The development of cognitive functions in adolescents is strongly associated with quality of life and future academic and career success. CANTAB provide a well-designed and systematic way of objectively mapping the cognitive landscape. Since the tests are reliable and valid, and stimuli are randomised, they are suitable for repeated assessment in longitudinal studies.



What are the next steps for your research?

As this is an on-going collaborative study of a central European population, we have collected data at ages 14, 16, and 19 years old. We are now collecting data for participants at 23 years old of age. With this, we hope to gain a better understanding of the developmental trajectories of the brain, cognition, and behaviour. Most importantly, with both environmental and genetic data, we are going to investigate the individual differences of these trajectories and their implications in both internalizing and externalizing mental health disorders.

Two of our most recent studies have uncovered that a schizophrenic-risk genetic mutation (an missense mutation rs13107325 on gene SLC39A8) is associated with both putamen volume2 and alcohol intake3. Another two studies of ours have identified the associations of peer victimization4 and cannabis use5 with changes in adolescent brain development.

We are now working closely with Cambridge Cognition to develop a Chinese version of CANTAB, namely C-CANTAB. In Shanghai, China, we have started several cohort studies of both population-based samples and clinical samples with neuropsychiatric disorders.

1. Ruan, et al. (2019). Adolescent binge drinking disrupts normal trajectories of brain functional organization and personality maturation. NeuroImage: Clinical 22: 101804. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nicl.2019.101804
2. Luo, et al. (2019). Association of a Schizophrenia-Risk Nonsynonymous Variant With Putamen Volume in Adolescents: A Voxelwise and Genome-Wide Association Study. JAMA Psychiatry. 76(4):435-445. doi: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2018.4126.
3. Evangelou, et al. (2019) New alcohol-related genes suggest shared genetic mechanisms with neuropsychiatric disorders. Nature Human Behaviour. 3, 950–961. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-019-0653-z
4. Quinlan, et al. (2019). Peer victimization and its impact on adolescent brain development and psychopathology. Molecular Psychiatry, 2018 Dec 12. doi: 10.1038/s41380-018-0297-9. [Epub ahead]
5. Yu, et al. (2019). Cannabis-Associated Psychotic-Like Experiences Are Mediated by Developmental Changes in the Parahippocampal Gyrus, Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaac.2019.05.034 [Epub ahead]

Tags : cantab testimonial | longitudinal

Author portrait

Qiang Luo, PhD

Associate Principal Investigator, Institute of Science and Technology for Brain-inspired Intelligence (ISTBI), Fudan University, China

Visiting Researcher, Department of Psychology and the Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience Institute (BCNI), University of Cambridge, UK

Visiting Researcher, Department of Medicine, University of Cambridge School of Clinical Medicine, UK
Visiting Fellow, Clare Hall, Cambridge, UK

Visiting Senior Lecturer, Centre for Population Neuroscience and Precision Medicine (PONS), Social, Genetic & Developmental Psychiatry Centre (MRC), King’s College, London, UK