Neurobehavioral Research Unit

Advances in the neurological and behavioral sciences continue to offer unprecedented opportunities to better understand and treat disorders of the central nervous system. The goal of the Neurobehavioral Research Unit (NBRU), located on the Broadway (main medical) campus of the Kennedy Krieger Institute (KKI), is to support research focused on typical and atypical development of the central nervous system, as well as conditions affecting central nervous system functioning throughout the lifespan. Capabilities include neuroimaging, neurogenetic analysis, and neurobehavioral assessment, all of which complement the other vast resources of Hopkins Medicine.

NBRU resources are organized into the following components:

Brain Research: The F.M. Kirby Research Center for Functional Brain Imaging provides access to MRI support exclusively for research.   This multi-modal resource includes the full spectrum of neuroimaging capabilities (e.g., functional MRI, diffusion tensor MRI, MR spectroscopic imaging, and computational anatomy), and provides investigators with resources for data acquisition and quantitative analysis. The Center houses two 3.0T MRI systems, one of the only 35 ultra-high field 7.0T MRI systems worldwide, three animal scanners, and the Brain Imaging Library, as well as a simulator (or ‘mock scanner’) that can be used to acclimatize subjects preparing for a scan. In addition, various MRI compatible devices are available to monitor and record physiologic responses.

Neurobehavioral Research: Neurobehavioral assessments include standardized tests, operant performance measures, direct observation and quantification of behavior in simulated home, school, and community settings, and the development of customized assessments. Additionally, the Motion Analysis Laboratory provides whole-body movement assessments that quantify discreet components of the mechanisms of movement and movement deficits and detect very small changes in performance over time or in response to treatment.

Neurogenetic Analysis: Great advances have been made in the development of technologies to study the molecular mechanisms underlying disorders of brain development and functioning, and scientists at KKI/Hopkins have been in the forefront of these advances. The Molecular Biology Core Laboratory facilitates research in this area by providing NBRU investigators an extensive menu of services including, but not limited to, blood processing, lymphoblast cell line establishment and repository services, genomic DNA isolation, gene expression and DNA methylation analysis, and bisulfite sequencing focused explicitly on developmental disorders, complementing other Core resources within the Hopkins community.

Research Design and Implementation: Services are provided to investigators by NBRU staff and by linkages to other KKI based resources. The NBRU Core Staff provides assistance to investigators on the development and implementation of research protocols in the following ways: (1) consultation on research design; (2) design of MRI protocols (e.g. paradigm design, stimulus development, experimental implementation); (3) selection and, if necessary, the design of measures of behaviors and cognitive function; and (4) behavioral training of participants to cooperate with various aspects of a protocol when compliance is expected to be a concern (i.e., for patients with substantial behavioral or cognitive impairments or for very young children).