Project Details

Early Career

Status: Funded - Open

Defining the Neurocognitive Profile of Depression in Adolescents with Autism to Improve Diagnosis

Danielle Sipsock, MD


BACKGROUND: Depression in adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is common (10-45%), yet it is poorly characterized despite its severe impact on functioning of teens and families. Depressed adolescents without ASD have deficits in two main neuropsychological areas, emotional attention and reward function, that have been linked to affected neurocircuitry such as the anterior cingulate cortex and striatum. GAP: Currently there is no established standard assessment for depression in ASD and research shows that commonly used tools underperform in an ASD population. The proposed study will be the first to our knowledge to investigate the cognitive profile of depressed adolescents with ASD, and will use experimental tasks and eye tracking as a way to quantify measurements. HYPOTHESIS: Our central hypothesis is: Adolescents with ASD and depression will demonstrate cognitive biases in emotional attention and reward processing as compared to non-depressed adolescents with ASD. METHODS: We will recruit adolescents with ASD with and without unipolar depressive diagnoses (30 per group) from an existing local ASD research registry of over 1700 participants. We will administer experimental tasks to measure emotional attention and reward processing using a SMI Red-n system to present stimuli and record performance and eye movements. RESULTS: Pending. IMPACT: Defining the neurocognitive profile of depression in ASD will result in improved methods to diagnose depression in adolescents with ASD. This is the first step to develop a novel objective depression assessment that would fill a crucial gap in clinical practice and knowledge in a highly vulnerable and affected population.