Principal Investigators //

Julia M. Stephen, PhD

Director, MEG/EEG Core
Professor of Translational Neuroscience

Julia M. Stephen

​Dr. Stephen specializes in magnetoencephalography (MEG) research investigating both sensory and cognitive functioning using the unique spatial and temporal precision afforded by MEG to better understand normal and abnormal brain functioning. Dr. Stephen studies brain development across the age spectrum, focusing on both early, rapid brain development in infants and young children and gradual age-related declines in the elderly. By characterizing the normal functioning of the brain across the age spectrum, it allows us to better understand atypical brain development in neurodevelopmental disorders such as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders and autism spectrum disorders, and age-related disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Stephen is using multimodal neuroimaging (MEG, EEG and fMRI) to better understand schizophrenia to provide guidance for improved intervention and treatment.  

For more information on Dr. Stephen, please refer to her Curriculum Vitae

Email Dr. Stephen

Selected Publications //

Theta Study

While the neurocognitive profile of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) has been characterized, the underlying mechanisms that lead to these neurocognitive deficits are still poorly understood. One executive function impairment that has been noted in children with FASD is poor inhibitory functioning and is likely linked to secondary deficits such as increased rates of addictions, incarceration and susceptibility to other neuropsychiatric disorders. Therefore, being able to better understand the underlying brain mechanisms that lead to the impairments of executive functions in young children with FASD would serve to be an important guide to intervention approaches. The focus of this study is to do just that, by evaluating changes in brain function in typically developing children in relation to children of the same age with prenatal alcohol exposure using neuroimaging and neurocognitive assessments. 

Whole Notes, Whole Brains: Understanding the Role of Music Training in Brain Development

Dr. Stephen will assess mathematic and cognitive skills of typically developing children in New Mexico and the role that music training can play in aquiring those skills. It is believed that with a greater music training experience that there will be improved cognitive performance, which in turn, will cause greater executive functioning will be related to better mathematic performance with large effects seen in children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. Recent studies indicate that music programs designed for disadvantaged children provide measurable improvements in outcomes following music training (Kraus et al. 2014a; Kraus et al. 2014b; Slater et al. 2014). In New Mexico, only 20% of children are reaching mathematic proficiency at the 8th grade level, making this research highly relevant to the area. 

DevMind Study: Mapping Brain Development In Childhood

This research study is designed to understand how the healthy brain matures and how hormones influence development by following children over the course of five years. The project will use advanced, data-driven, computational methods to evaluate the underlying theoretical and biological (brain) organization of attention, cognitive control, and working memory in children and adolescents across development. This neuroimaging approach will include dynamic functional mapping based on MEG, high-resolution volumetric MRI analyses based on multimodal parcellation, and functional MRI for whole brain dynamic functional connectivity.

Identifying Markers of Atypical Brain Development Due to Prenatal Alcohol Exposure

Prenatal alcohol exposure is the leading cause of developmental delays in children. However, due to the stigma associated with drinking during pregnancy, it is often difficult to identify the children at risk of developmental delays due to prenatal alcohol exposure. Identification of prenatal alcohol exposure at a young age provides the opportunity for early intervention to optimize long-term outcomes. Left untreated, these children are at higher risk of developing addictions and being incarcerated than controls. Based on their neurobehavioral profile, identification of prenatal alcohol exposure in adolescence would suggest a different course of treatment for at-risk youth and could prevent long-term incarceration. This NIH funded pilot study uses MEG, EEG and MRI to identify a unique pattern of brain dysfunction in children prenatally exposed to alcohol.

Auditory and Visual Integration in Schizophrenia

This NIH funded project explores the brain mechanism underlying the integration of auditory and visual stimuli using a simple ecologically relevant multisensory integration task. Individuals with schizophrenia often experience cognitive impairment in addition to the symptoms directly associated with the disorder. Previous studies have shown that impaired sensory processing impacts cognitive functioning in patients with schizophrenia. The goal of this study is to explore the link between basic sensory processing and the integration of sensory signals to better understand the deficits or benefits of multisensory stimuli for targeting cognitive impairment in schizophrenia.