Research in the Lab
There are several methods of data collection that we use in the Grossman Laboratory. Once a patient or a healthy control volunteers for our research, we may collect samples of their cerebral spinal fluid (CSF), conduct MRI scans, or administer pencil/paper tasks. These samples contribute to our database in several ways.
Cerebral Spinal Fluid (CSF) is a fluid of the nervous system that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. Levels of specific proteins in the CSF can be analyzed to infer symptomatic predispositions to dementia. Knowing the different protein levels in the CSF allows for greater understanding of the symptoms of dementia, and thus provides insight for treatment practices.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is a way of looking at how the brain is structured, and how it functions under specific circumstances. Structural MRI acquires a detailed 3D anatomical view of the brain. Functional MRI records increases and decreases of blood flow in the brain during small periodic intervals while monitoring regional brain functioning during cognitive activity. With this information, we are able to compare structural and functional differences between normal and dementia patients. Brain images also allow us to identify areas of significant atrophy so we may correlate it with behavior during specific tasks. We also collect experimental sequences involving diffusion tensor imaging to study white matter tractography, and arterial spin labeling to study quantitative brain functioning at rest.
Pencil and paper tasks are used in and out of the MRI for the acquisition of behavioral information. With such information, we can infer what types of behaviors are induced or inhibited due to atrophy in specific brain areas. These tasked are used as a way to evaluate the effects neurodegeneration on social behavior. We also use these as a way to tap into cognitive resources such as semantic memory, number knowledge, and language abilities.
Semantic Memory is one cognitive function that is strongly impacted by neurodegenerative conditions like FTD, CBD, and Alzheimer’s disease. Semantic memory is what allows people to recall concepts, rules, names of objects, and facts. Some of our studies aim to measure these abilities in patients and healthy controls in order to determine how semantic memory is affected by neurodegenerative conditions.
Language ability is also affected by neurodegenerative conditions. People with FTD tend to experience a gradual inability to produce sentences properly. This aphasia, as it is referred to, is thought to be a result of a patient’s deteriorating knowledge of proper grammatical sentence production. With our language ability tasks, we can gain insight as to what types of words are more challenging for patients to comprehend, produce, and engage in new sentences.
Number knowledge is also an important part of our research. With our paper and pencil tasks, we seek to determine what cognitive processes involving numbers are adversely affected by neurodegenerative disorders.