Herting Neuroimaging Lab

Overview

Our laboratory uses advance neuroimaging techniques to investigate how the brain develops during childhood and adolescence. Our research focuses on both internal and external risk factors, like hormones, air pollution, and physical activity on brain outcomes like structure, function, cognition, and mental health.

Research Projects

Areas of Research

Individual Differences in Brain and Behavior

Brain development is a lifelong process.

One of the best ways to understand individual differences is to measure the same person multiple times and compare how their brain and behavior changes as compared to other individuals. By doing so, our lab hopes to better understand how the brain and subsequent behavior develops across various stages of the lifespan. We are also interested to know if hormones, such as testosterone and estrogen, influence how the brain develops and if it does so differently in boys versus girls. We are also trying to understand what role different hormones have on how the brain matures both during pregnancy and puberty and if an individual’s genes impact these processes.

Air Pollution and Neurodevelopment

How does early life exposure to air pollutants and other toxins influence neurodevelopment? Are these effects long-lasting?

New research efforts by our laboratory aim to determine if exposure to air pollution during child and adolescent development has long-lasting effects on how the brain matures and functions over time. In considering how pollution may act on the developing brain, we also consider if these effects are similar for everyone, or if there are other factors that may make some children and adolescents more vulnerable to the potential effects of air pollution.

Mental Health Risk & Resilience

1 in 5 children ages 13-18 have a serious mental illness and 50% of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14.

By studying individual differences, our work ultimately aims to better understand and help to identify preclinical indicators of mental health risk, as well as resilience, in children and adolescents. Studies in our lab are trying to understand how hormones, environment, and even genes may interact to put an individual at risk for mental health disorders, as well as how lifestyle choices, like physical exercise, may positively benefit the developing brain and cognitive function.

Team

Kimberly Felix
Research Coordinator
Kimberly graduated from California State University, Los Angeles with a bachelor’s degree in Public Health. Her work entails recruitment, outreach, database management, and data collection for the NEAT study. She also pre-processes and analyzes the activity monitor data from both ABB and NEAT to get measures of physical activity for the DORI project.
Elisabeth Burnor
Data Analyst
Elisabeth works on various studies with the ABCD dataset to analyze how air pollution exposures affect brain diffusion outcomes and mental health in children. She assists with model development, implementation, and analysis. She graduated from the University of Washington School of Public Health with a Master of Science and a focus in Environmental Health.
Hedyeh Ahmadi, PhD
Biostatistician
Hedyeh Ahmadi earned her postdoc from University of California, Irvine in 2021 and PhD in Measurement, Evaluation, and Statistics from Columbia University in 2019. She completed her M.S. in Statistics at University of California, Irvine in 2016. Her research focuses on applying and testing of methods for analyzing repeated measure/longitudinal growth models in the context of Neuroscience, Salivary Bioscience, Psychology, and Education. In addition to exploring new methods, Hedyeh teaches advanced statistical methods to researchers via intensive training workshops. More broadly, she is interested in the use of regression models – particularly in the areas of meta-analysis and with censored salivary data.
Kirthana Sukumaran
Project Specialist
Kirthana graduated from the University of Texas at Dallas with a Master of Science in Applied Cognition and Neuroscience. She works on studies involving the ABCD dataset to analyze effects of environment such as air pollution exposure on brain diffusion outcomes and mental health. She assists with creation, quality control and analysis of cognitive and neuroimaging data.
Carlos Cardenas-Iniguez
Postdoctoral Fellow
Carlos Cardenas-Iniguez (pronouns he/him/his) earned his PhD in Psychology and Integrative Neuroscience from the University of Chicago in 2019. His research focuses on using the ABCD Study dataset to expose the impact of social stratification on the environments in which people live, and how these environments, in turn, impact neural and cognitive development and mental health. His research interests also include the implementation of spatial analysis, critical race theory, and anti-racism principles in neuroscience/psychology research.
Katherine Bottenhorn
Postdoctoral Fellow
Katherine Bottenhorn (she/her) earned her PhD in Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience from Florida International University in 2021. Her research leverages the ABCD Study dataset to explore how environmental and lifestyle variables are associated with individual differences in functional brain connectivity, cognition, and behavioral outcomes in children and adolescents. Her research interests additionally include uncovering just how much our brains change over the course of everyday life, with a focus on reproductive health and women’s health.
Claire Campbell
Graduate Student
Claire graduated from UC Davis with a degree in Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior. She ran the ABB Pilot Study which looked at the effects of air pollution on brain development and obesity in young adults. Her work evolved to include working on an R03 grant examining the associations between amygdala subnuclei and age, sex, BMI, and puberty in adolescents and creating air pollution estimates for critical periods of development for our DORI project.
Devyn Cotter
Graduate Student
Devyn received her Bachelor’s degree in Neuroscience Psychology/Biology from Saint Mary’s College of California, and her Master’s degree in Neuroscience and Translational Medicine from Queen Mary, University of London. She is currently a PhD student at USC in the Neuroscience Graduate Program. Her research interests include employing multimodal neuroimaging techniques to better understand the effects of stress on emotional development and associated brain outcomes in adolescence.
Anisa Azad
Volunteer
Anisa graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in Molecular and Cell Biology. She then got her Master’s in Neuroimaging and Informatics at USC. In addition to running the NEAT study, Anisa is involved in pre-processing and quality control of the structural scans, assisting with the pipeline to pre-process the diffusion weighted images for both ABB and NEAT, and white matter tractography through amygdala subnuclei in NEAT.
Adam Omary
Volunteer
Adam is an undergraduate at USC studying Cognitive Science, alongside an accelerated master’s program in Biostatistics. He is currently involved in analyzing data from the NEAT study as part of his master’s thesis, with a focus on theory of mind and emotion regulation.
Nour Khalifeh
Volunteer
Nour is an undergraduate at USC studying Computational Neuroscience and Computer Science. His work under the NEAT study involves conducting a review on the impacts of Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia on the brain.
Alethea De Jesus
Volunteer
Alethea is a junior at USC studying Neuroscience and The Dynamics of Early Childhood. She assists with brain data processing in the ABCD study.
Katie Spears
Volunteer
Katie is an undergraduate at USC studying Neuroscience on the pre-medicine track. She is currently working under Carinna on the ABCD study helping to preprocess data and look through T1 and T2 brain scans.

Alumni

Isabel Buri
USC URAP Student
Dora Cserbik
Project Specialist
Raymond Jackson
MPH Practicum & Capstone Student
Sandhya Chakravartti
Graduate Student
Robert Kim
Volunteer
Miguel Jaime
USC URAP Student
Xiaofang Chu
Volunteer
Mengyi Li
MPH Practicum & Capstone Student
Dania Ruiz
Volunteer
Samah Alothman
MPH Practicum & Capstone Student
Michelle Canales
Research Coordinator
Adam Mehzer
NGP Student
Cory Johnson
MPH Practicum & Capstone Student

Two new studies explore how pollution affects the brain

USC researchers are investigating the impact of fine particle pollution on child brain growth and in older women who aren’t eating enough fish. Fine particle pollution can alter a child’s brain. (Illustration/iStock) A pair of recently published USC studies add to our...

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