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The contribution of novel brain imaging techniques to understanding the neurobiology of mental retardation and developmental disabilities.

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Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, California 94305-5719, USA.


Studying the biological mechanisms underlying mental retardation and developmental disabilities (MR/DD) is a very complex task. This is due to the wide heterogeneity of etiologies and pathways that lead to MR/DD. Breakthroughs in genetics and molecular biology and the development of sophisticated brain imaging techniques during the last decades have facilitated the emergence of a field called Behavioral Neurogenetics. Behavioral Neurogenetics focuses on studying genetic diseases with known etiologies that are manifested by unique cognitive and behavioral phenotypes. In this review, we describe the principles of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) techniques, including structural MRI, functional MRI, and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), and how they are implemented in the study of Williams (WS), velocardiofacial (VCFS), and fragile X (FXS) syndromes. From WS we learn that dorsal stream abnormalities can be associated with visuospatial deficits; VCFS is a model for exploring the molecular and brain pathways that lead to psychiatric disorders for which subjects with MR/DD are at increased risk; and finally, findings from multimodal imaging techniques show that aberrant frontal-striatal connections are implicated in the executive function and attentional deficits of subjects with FXS. By deciphering the molecular pathways and brain structure and function associated with cognitive deficits, we will gain a better understanding of the pathophysiology of MR/DD, which will eventually make possible more specific treatments for this population.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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