The motivation to overcome adversity is critical for achieving goals in life. We recently developed a persistence metric to assess the ability to overcome adversity during a cognitive task. This metric is based on Wisconsin Card Sorting Task (WCST) performance. The WCST is typically used to measure whether people can learn new rules and shift their behavior. This requires working memory and problem solving skills. It also requires persistence. People have to overcome the adversity of finding out that they have made an error on the task and figure out how to make a correct response. We describe this method for measuring cognitive persistence in a recent article published in the journal Neuropsychologia. We also demonstrate that cognitive persistence predicts brain activity in frontal cortex during a challenging word recognition task. This measure could be important for understanding who is working their hardest to perform a task and perhaps predict who will benefit most from interventions.
As described in a recent eNeuro manuscript, we examined the consistency of gray matter findings from published reading disability studies and then attempted to replicate those findings in a relatively large multi-site dataset. This study was part of a larger project to establish methods for multi-site studies. Orbitofrontal and superior temporal sulcus gray matter volume was consistently lower in people with reading disability compared to controls across published studies and in the multi-site dataset. Results from the multi-site dataset were due to reading disability cases with relatively low total brain volume. It appears then that the most consistent gray matter findings in the reading disability literature are driven by cases with low total gray matter volume. Interestingly, the orbitofrontal and superior sulcus gray matter effects were in locations where migrational errors were observed in post-mortem brains from people who had reading disability,; migrational errors that were most pronounced for a case with the lowest brain weight (Galaburda et al., 1985) . For those also interested in multi-site methods, please consider eNeuro manuscript as an example of how to deal with missing data across different research sites.
As part of our project to develop methods for multi-site studies, we unexpectedly received data collected from a child with Bilateral Perisylvian Syndrome (BPS). This was unexpected for a dataset involving children with dyslexia because BPS often presents with epilepsy, mental retardation, and motor impairments. This case did not exhibit these more severe phenotypes and instead had relatively specific deficits on measures of phonological processing tasks compared to higher level language and cognitive abilities. This observation is important because it shows that the BPS clinical profile can include relatively mild impairments that includes reading disability. Additional details about this case and BPS have been published in the journal Cortex.
The locus coeruleus (LC) attention system is a target for understanding cognitive difficulties in children and older adults. Recent neuroimaging studies have suggested that LC can be structurally identified. We now have direct evidence from an ex vivo imaging and histologic study that this contrast is impacted by the density of neuromelanin that normally accumulates in LC neurons with age (picture below: neuromelanin across histological sections corresponds to contrast in the MRI scan). It is not clear that there is a direct correspondence between LC contrast, neuromelanin, and the number of healthy LC neurons, but the demonstration that neuromelanin contributes to LC contrast in MRI scans is a first step in developing a biomarker that could be used to track disease and benefit from interventions.