Is Cerebellar Dysfunction a Biomarker for Early Risk of ASD In Preterm and Low Birth Weight Infants?

Rutgers University

Project Description

Using sophisticated medical testing in early development to find markers of autism risk, which will lead to better answers of why development is affected and how to individualize treatment.

Despite the lack of very early markers of risk for autism presently known, there is substantial evidence that ASD has prenatal origins. Therefore it is very likely that very early biomarkers exist and can be ascertained. This is the focus of this study, which is comprised of a group who has two previous Governor s Council awards to look for very early biomarkers for ASD. In this application, they are proposing to investigate the possibility that the very early function and structure of the cerebellum is impaired which can lead to ASD.

Selection Criteria

This study will be done in the very preterm/LBW (less than 1500 gm.) because they are more likely to represent a subtype of children who are at risk of cerebellar injury or dysfunction. Preterm/LBW infants are an idea group to pilot these tests as they already require neuroimaging (prior to leaving the NICU) as part of their standard clinical care.

If this study can demonstrate cerebellar findings as a biomarker for ASD in the preterm/LBW group, it will next test the following groups:

  • Other high risk groups
  • Low risk infants
  • Infants born at term with no obvious abnormalities

What's Involved

This study is proposing to pilot very early tests of cerebellar development and function. This will be done through MRI scanning around the time of birth. This includes standard MRI as well as Diffusion Tensor Imaging, which is able to visualize the connectivity of the brain.In addition, it will also use three direct tests of cerebellar functioning.

This includes the following tests:

  • Eye blink conditioning in which an association is made between a puff of air to the eye producing a blink and a sound
  • Learning the association between a sound a visual input
  • A profile of cerebellar based eye movement
This study will measure the signs and symptoms consistent with ASD and how they correlate with the early cerebellar tests.


At the end of the study, all families will receive a $25 gift card
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Team Members

Barbie Zimmerman-Bier
Principal Investigator
(201) 621-2246

Andrew Walrond
Research Assistant
(732) 235-7169

Alexa Sacchi
Research Assistant
(732) 235-7169

Contact Info
(732) 235-5192
89 French Street
New Brunswick, NJ 08901