Anastasia Dimitropoulos, PhD

Associate Professor
Department of Psychological Sciences
College of Arts and Sciences

Anastasia Dimitropoulos (BA Emory Univ, MS PhD Vanderbilt) is an associate professor of psychology whose research focuses on neurodevelopmental disorders with regard to their impact on cognition and behavior. In addition to more traditional assessments, Dimitropoulos also uses functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to learn more about the cognitive processes that may tie to particular behaviors. Her current work focuses heavily on a genetic disorder known as Prader-Willi Syndrome, including symptoms of autism sometimes evident in individuals with the syndrome.

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Graduate Student Research Assistants

Olena Zyga

Ellen Doernberg

Research Information

Research Interests

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. Alongside cognitive and behavioral assessments, we use brain imaging and eye-tracking 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, as well as social and communication ability in comparison to autism spectrum disorders.  In addition, my lab is working to build and evaluate a play-based remote intervention program focused on optimizing development in children with PWS.

Research Projects

  • Evaluating the Play-based Remote Enrichment Development (PRETEND) Program in Prader-Willi Syndrome. The purpose of this study is to evaluate the feasibility and efficacy of the PRETEND Program, a remote intervention program for families of children with PWS delivered via a video-conferencing platform and featuring parent training and direct play-based intervention for children. Program goals include increasing children’s play skills, emotional regulation, and cognitive and behavioral flexibility. This work is supported by a grant from the Foundation for Prader-Willi Syndrome Research (FPWR).
  • Developing Objective Biomarkers of Hyperphagia in Children with Prader-Willi Syndrome. Hyperphagia is a distinctive feature of PWS that can cause significant challenges for individuals and caregivers. Up to this point, characterization of hyperphagia has most commonly relied on caregiver report, an indirect measure that may be subject to bias.  The purpose of this study is to investigate the use of eye-tracking as a way to objectively measure and better understand the development of hyperphagia symptoms in individuals with PWS. This work is supported by a grant from the Foundation for Prader-Willi Syndrome Research (FPWR).
  • KidsFirst is an initiative designed solely to benefit kids with autism and their families. Our goal is to make a difference in family’s lives by establishing a community affected by autism and to communicate future research opportunities. We are currently recruiting parents of children (all ages) diagnosed with autism to enroll in a research registry aimed at identifying similarities across children and establishing behavioral classification to better understand autism. At enrollment, we ask parents to answer a ten-minute survey which will guide future requests for information, such as more targeted follow up questions and possible genetic sampling.
  • The information you provide will help us translate findings into targeted approaches for therapy, care, and intervention. All information gathered will be strictly confidential, anonymized, and encrypted in our HIPAA-compliant repository.
  • There is no cost to participate and all correspondence is through the registry, email, and telephone. There are no in-person appointments. The International Center for Autism Research and Education (ICARE) at Case Western Reserve University is partnered with the Hartwell Foundation and Stanford University to establish Northeast Ohio as a site in the KidsFirst Research Registry.
  • Brain Mechanisms of Overeating in Prader-Willi Syndrome: The purpose of this study is to use functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to understand what happens in the brain when people with Prader-Willi syndrome think about different types of food. We aim to identify whether the brain responds differently to high-calorie foods when people with PWS have not eaten for several hours compared to after eating. Ultimately, we hope to understand what role rewarding food has on the eating disorder in PWS. The information gained from this study may facilitate the development of appropriate interventions for the overeating problem and food-related preoccupations in Prader-Willi syndrome.This work is supported by grant RO3HD058766-01 from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
  • Symptoms of Autistic Disorder in Prader-Willi Syndrome: The goal of this study is to examine social and communication problems in individuals with PWS in comparison to those with an autism spectrum disorder. Preliminary findings and genetic research indicates people with PWS who have uniparental disomy (UPD) genetic status may be more likely to show symptoms of autism than those with paternal deletion subtype. We aim to use the gold standard standardized measures to assess symptoms of autism to investigate the potential link to Prader-Willi syndrome. In addition, speech and language evaluations will be conducted and social-perceptual problems (such as difficulty recognizing faces) will be compared to individuals with autism spectrum disorders.This research is supported by a grant from the Prader-Willi Syndrome Association (PWSA-USA).