Simone Kühne is a psychologist by training but works mostly in the field of cognitive neuroscience. Her research interests focus on neuroplasticity and how the brain can adapt to an ever changing world. At the same time she has been interested in understanding how human beings can exert self-control and inhibition to counteract impulses. This later interest has lead her to investigate habitual responses, addiction, and other mental disorders.
What have I achieved during my fellowship?
We have been able to conduct several analyses on the IMAGEN data (a European multisite neuroimaging study dataset) searching for predictors of later alcohol use behaviour. One of the results we obtained was that the change of alcohol drinking behaviour from age 14 to 16 and 18 years of age can be predicted from grey matter volume in bilateral caudate nucleus at age 14 (Kühn et al., 2019, Elife). Interestingly, a larger caudate volume predicts a higher slope and therewith stronger increases in drinking behaviour. Since the caudate nucleus volume is known to reduce over time during ontogenetic development in childhood and adolescence, the finding is biologically highly plausible.
Moreover, we conducted an exploratory analysis using a binary partitioning algorithm in which we deliberately focussed only on predictors that are easy and cheap to assess, namely self-reports, reports of parents and computer tests (no neuroimaging, no genetics etc.). Here we predicted alcohol drinking at age 18 years. Four significant split variables, namely Place of residence, the Disorganization subscale of the Temperament and Character Inventory, Sex, and the Sexuality subscale of the Life-events questionnaire were found to distinguish between adolescents scoring high or low on the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) about five years later (Kühn et al., 2019, Addictive Behaviours). Carolina de Weerth, another Jacobs Fellow, and myself started to collaborate and acquired brain data from children at age 12 years, who have been part of Carolinas BIBO study that started to follow these kids from the 36th week of pregnancy. Our goal is to test whether early factor such as breast-feeding history, co-sleeping etc. are associated with brain structure and function at age 12.
My plans for the future
In particular our finding on the important split variables predicting later alcohol use behaviour suggests important candidate measures that we would like to implement in future prospective studies on the development of alcohol drinking in youth. Moreover, Carolina and I have plans to predict brain structure and function of children of the BIBO study at age 12 from early stress responses, environmental exposure and breast-feeding history.