Assistant Professor, Department of Psychological Sciences, College of Arts and Sciences
Interview with Dr. Anastasia Dimitropoulos
1. What is your scientific training and background?
I did my undergraduate work in Psychology at Emory. I then attended Peabody College at Vanderbilt in the Psychology and Human Development Program, and my doctoral degree is in Developmental Psychology. I was an NIH T32 trainee on, at that time, the Mental Retardation Grant, so I have specialization in Intellectual Disabilities. I then did a Post Doctoral Fellowship at the Child Study Center at Yale Medical School to train in Neuroimaging and to work on a grant that was examining Prader-Willi Syndrome, Williams Syndrome and autism phenotype similarities and differences. I also received clinical training during my time there.
2. How is your research relevant to autism spectrum disorders?
My main research focus is in phenotypic characterization of neurodevelopmental disorders. One of my goals is to examine similarities between genetics, neurodevelopment syndromes and ASDs to see if we can see commonalities with disorders that have a known genetic pathway. My main work is in Prader-Willi Syndrome and we are currently examining Prader-Willi Syndrome for autistic-like features given the increased risk of autism in chromosome 15 duplication syndrome and frequency of maternal duplications of the Ch. 15q11-13 region in autism.
I also have an interest in repetitive and ritualistic behavior that occurs in people with neurodevelopmental disorders so some of my work is in repetitive and ritualistic behaviors in children with autism spectrum disorders and examining the measures used to assess these behaviors in ASD specifically.
3. What definitional and inclusion criteria do you use for autism spectrum disorders?
I use DSM criteria, ideally everyone would have ADOS and ADI-R assessments before they enter our study. However, if a child comes in with a diagnosis from a clinical psychologist or neuropsychologist based on DSM criteria for ASD I include them in our studies.
4. How would you characterize your research program?
Clinical characterization. The program currently focuses on detecting behavior commonalities between people who have similar disorders to further clarify the phenotypes of these disorders. I do not have an intervention program as part of my current research.
5. What is your research design and methodology?
In our current studies we are using gold standard methods like the ADOS and ADI-R to examine symptoms in Prader-Willi Syndrome in direct comparison to autism. We are also examining face perception and discrimination using standardized measures as well as measures we developed in the lab and fMRI to understand face processing in Prader-Willi Syndrome as it relates to autism.
I also have a collaborative project where we are reexamining a measure of compulsive behavior in a large dataset of participants with ASD in order to revise the measure to be more appropriate for compulsive behavior in ASD.
6. What are the implications for diagnosis and ASD from your research?
With regard to compulsive behavior, we hope to produce better methods to identify compulsive behavior and that this will then aid in developing more targeted treatment. For our social functioning research, our goal is to identify commonalities between known genetic syndromes and autism so we can identify whether there are sub-classifications of autism that are related to particular genetic susceptibilities.
7. Do you have any recommended readings regarding Autism Spectrum Disorders?
Essentials of Autism Spectrum Disorders Evaluation and Assessment by Celine Saulnier and Pamela Ventola
8. List your relevant publications.
Dimitropoulos, A., Ho, A., Klaiman, C., Koenig, K. & Schultz, R.T. (2009). Comparison of behavioral characteristics in children with autism, Prader-Willi syndrome, and Williams syndrome. Journal of Mental Health Research in Intellectual Disabilities, 2(3), 220-243.
Dimitropoulos, A., & Schultz, R.T. (2007). Autistic-like symptomatology in Prader-Willi syndrome: A review of recent findings. Current Psychiatry Reports, 9, 159-164.
Scahill, L., McDougle, C. J., Williams, S., Dimitropoulos, A., Aman, M. G., McCracken, J., Tierney, E., Vitiello, B., et al. (2006). The use of the Children's Yale-Brown Obsessive-Compulsive Scale in pervasive developmental disorders. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 45(9), 1114-1123.
B.A. - Emory University
M.S & Ph.D. - Vanderbilt University
Postdoctoral Fellowship - Yale University School of Medicine
My work focuses on examining behavior and cognition of individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders. One of the goals in my lab is to better understand why people who have the same genetic developmental disorder have many of the same behavioral characteristics, why some characteristics vary within a genetic population, and what neurobiological mechanisms account for these behaviors.
In addition to cognitive and behavioral assessments, we use brain imaging (fMRI) to examine cognitive processes associated with specific behavior. Currently, my research is directed at understanding several characteristics of individuals with Prader-Willi syndrome (PWS), including hyperphagia and compulsive behavior, in addition to social and communication ability in comparison to autism spectrum disorders.
Assistant Professor, Department of Psychological Sciences, Case Western Reserve University