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Moriah E. Thomason

Moriah E. Thomason, PhD

Barakett Associate Professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry

Associate Professor, Department of Population Health

pregnancy, MRI, infant, exposome, fetus, microbiome, wearables, discrimination, trauma, adversity, stress, inflammation

My main objective is to investigate how social and environmental determinants shape perinatal and early human neurodevelopment. I am driven by a desire to comprehend the fundamental components of brain development and isolate the mechanisms by which the environment influences growth and evolution. Ultimately, I aim to identify biomarkers in the early stages of disease development that could serve as effective targets for new therapies. In particular, I am interested in scalable and actionable intervention targets, such as sleep, health education, social support, and passive sensors that can detect the need for intervention.

I started conducting pediatric MRI studies in 1999, focusing initially on the neural mechanisms underlying cognitive development, such as cognitive control, behavioral inhibition, and working memory. Over time, my focus shifted towards studying early adversity, trauma, and internalizing/externalizing disorders. I have investigated the neural systems underlying behavioral inhibition and reward responsivity in children and adolescents who have experienced early-life neglect and abuse. My recent studies have expanded to examine a broader range of key determinants of health, including toxicant exposure, discrimination stress, environmental predictability/uncertainty, and even the effects of early-life adversity on the subsequent generation’s neural development.

One aspect that sets my work apart is my focus on these topics at the very beginning of human life. I have published many studies that address human intrauterine functional brain development. Functional MRI is one of the only non-invasive methodologies available for measuring fetal brain function. I have made significant contributions to the methodology, empirical discovery, publicly available data sets, and code that comprise this young field. I have described the properties by which the fetal brain becomes organized into functioning circuits, linked patterns within the fetal neural connectome to subsequent child outcomes, and shared data and source code with labs worldwide.

I have also started investigating the mechanisms by which environmental neural programming begins in the womb, drawing, in part, on collection of biospecimens and the use of wearable technologies implemented during (or over the course of) pregnancy. In a recent study, I identified correlates of maternal prenatal stress in the fetal brain and showed that the magnitude of this fetal brain effect is related to how early the fetus is born. Regarding how adversity may propagate across generations, we recently discovered that abuses suffered by a biological mother during her childhood are related to fetal limbic neural network connectivity. The limbic system is critical for emotional processing, and alterations in this network relate to PTSD, depression, and anxiety. There is now considerable data suggesting that prenatal neural programming sets the stage for long-term health and development. Thus, children of those that experience abuses in youth appear more likely to have alterations in key circuitry that may alter the way they process emotional information. It is too soon to judge whether these changes are adaptive or a source of vulnerability; I remain open to either possibility, and would speculate that wide individual variability should preclude generalization with regard to this effect.

My approach relies on the engagement of families, many of whom may live in underserved communities. Many of my studies address disparities experienced by minoritized individuals, and I have written multiple commentaries on the importance of population representative and culturally sensitive science. I have also published data demonstrating that discrimination stress contributes to health outcomes above and beyond general stress factors, while controlling for general health, race, age, and income. I manage active longitudinal pregnancy cohorts in Detroit, MI, and New York, NY, and support two Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and NIH funded clinical fetal and infant neuroimaging studies in Belgaum, India, and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. I am also a site PI for the NIH Healthy Brains and Child Development Study and a site co-I for a RECOVER Pediatric cohort study. I strive to make research accessible and to design studies that fit with participants' preferences and goals. I actively involve community groups in my research, prioritize the return of results to families, and have contributed to innovations around remote biobehavioral testing over the past several years.

I formerly served as Director of the Perinatal Neural Connectivity Unit within the intramural Perinatology Research Branch of NICHD/NIH. My work has been featured on NPR All Things Considered, BBC World Service, Huffington Post, MIT Technology Review, New Scientist, and most recently, in Science, Nature Medicine and National Geographic. I am a standing member of the Child Psychopathology and Developmental Disabilities (CPDD) study section within the Center for Scientific Review. I serve as an Associate Editor for the journal of Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience. In 2015, I received the NIMH Biobehavioral Research Award for Innovative New Scientists (BRAINS), and in 2019, I received the honor of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) from the Office of the President of the United States.  

Academic office

One Park Ave, 7th Floor

New York, NY 10016

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Program Director Neurodevelopmental Early Childhood Research Program

Research Technology, Systems, and Solutions Liaison

Vice Chair for Research, Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry

PhD from Stanford University

Stanford University, Stanford Neurodevelopment, Affect, and Psychopathology Lab

Gross, Rachel S; Thaweethai, Tanayott; Rosenzweig, Erika B; Chan, James; Chibnik, Lori B; Cicek, Mine S; Elliott, Amy J; Flaherman, Valerie J; Foulkes, Andrea S; Gage Witvliet, Margot; Gallagher, Richard; Gennaro, Maria Laura; Jernigan, Terry L; Karlson, Elizabeth W; Katz, Stuart D; Kinser, Patricia A; Kleinman, Lawrence C; Lamendola-Essel, Michelle F; Milner, Joshua D; Mohandas, Sindhu; Mudumbi, Praveen C; Newburger, Jane W; Rhee, Kyung E; Salisbury, Amy L; Snowden, Jessica N; Stein, Cheryl R; Stockwell, Melissa S; Tantisira, Kelan G; Thomason, Moriah E; Truong, Dongngan T; Warburton, David; Wood, John C; Ahmed, Shifa; Akerlundh, Almary; Alshawabkeh, Akram N; Anderson, Brett R; Aschner, Judy L; Atz, Andrew M; Aupperle, Robin L; Baker, Fiona C; Balaraman, Venkataraman; Banerjee, Dithi; Barch, Deanna M; Baskin-Sommers, Arielle; Bhuiyan, Sultana; Bind, Marie-Abele C; Bogie, Amanda L; Bradford, Tamara; Buchbinder, Natalie C; Bueler, Elliott; Bükülmez, Hülya; Casey, B J; Chang, Linda; Chrisant, Maryanne; Clark, Duncan B; Clifton, Rebecca G; Clouser, Katharine N; Cottrell, Lesley; Cowan, Kelly; D'Sa, Viren; Dapretto, Mirella; Dasgupta, Soham; Dehority, Walter; Dionne, Audrey; Dummer, Kirsten B; Elias, Matthew D; Esquenazi-Karonika, Shari; Evans, Danielle N; Faustino, E Vincent S; Fiks, Alexander G; Forsha, Daniel; Foxe, John J; Friedman, Naomi P; Fry, Greta; Gaur, Sunanda; Gee, Dylan G; Gray, Kevin M; Handler, Stephanie; Harahsheh, Ashraf S; Hasbani, Keren; Heath, Andrew C; Hebson, Camden; Heitzeg, Mary M; Hester, Christina M; Hill, Sophia; Hobart-Porter, Laura; Hong, Travis K F; Horowitz, Carol R; Hsia, Daniel S; Huentelman, Matthew; Hummel, Kathy D; Irby, Katherine; Jacobus, Joanna; Jacoby, Vanessa L; Jone, Pei-Ni; Kaelber, David C; Kasmarcak, Tyler J; Kluko, Matthew J; Kosut, Jessica S; Laird, Angela R; Landeo-Gutierrez, Jeremy; Lang, Sean M; Larson, Christine L; Lim, Peter Paul C; Lisdahl, Krista M; McCrindle, Brian W; McCulloh, Russell J; McHugh, Kimberly; Mendelsohn, Alan L; Metz, Torri D; Miller, Julie; Mitchell, Elizabeth C; Morgan, Lerraughn M; Müller-Oehring, Eva M; Nahin, Erica R; Neale, Michael C; Ness-Cochinwala, Manette; Nolan, Sheila M; Oliveira, Carlos R; Osakwe, Onyekachukwu; Oster, Matthew E; Payne, R Mark; Portman, Michael A; Raissy, Hengameh; Randall, Isabelle G; Rao, Suchitra; Reeder, Harrison T; Rosas, Johana M; Russell, Mark W; Sabati, Arash A; Sanil, Yamuna; Sato, Alice I; Schechter, Michael S; Selvarangan, Rangaraj; Sexson Tejtel, S Kristen; Shakti, Divya; Sharma, Kavita; Squeglia, Lindsay M; Srivastava, Shubika; Stevenson, Michelle D; Szmuszkovicz, Jacqueline; Talavera-Barber, Maria M; Teufel, Ronald J; Thacker, Deepika; Trachtenberg, Felicia; Udosen, Mmekom M; Warner, Megan R; Watson, Sara E; Werzberger, Alan; Weyer, Jordan C; Wood, Marion J; Yin, H Shonna; Zempsky, William T; Zimmerman, Emily; Dreyer, Benard P; ,

PloS one. 2024 May; 19(5):e0285635

Bradley, Holly; Fine, Dana; Minai, Yasmin; Gilabert, Laurel; Gregory, Kimberly; Smith, Lynne; Gao, Wei; Giase, Gina; Krogh-Jespersen, Sheila; Zhang, Yudong; Wakschlag, Lauren; Brito, Natalie H; Feliciano, Integra; Thomason, Moriah; Cabral, Laura; Panigrahy, Ashok; Potter, Alexandra; Cioffredi, Leigh-Anne; Smith, Beth A

Pediatric research. 2023 Dec; 94(6):2098-2104

Ji, Lanxin; Yoon, Youngwoo Bryan; Hendrix, Cassandra L; Kennelly, Ellyn C; Majbri, Amyn; Bhatia, Tanya; Taylor, Alexis; Thomason, Moriah E

Developmental cognitive neuroscience. 2023 Dec; 64:101326

van den Heuvel, Marion I; Monk, Catherine; Hendrix, Cassandra L; Hect, Jasmine; Lee, Seonjoo; Feng, Tianshu; Thomason, Moriah E

Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. 2023 Oct; 62(10):1134-1146

Querdasi, Francesca R; Vogel, Sarah C; Thomason, Moriah E; Callaghan, Bridget L; Brito, Natalie H

Scientific reports. 2023 Aug 16; 13(1):13289

Ji, Lanxin; Majbri, Amyn; Hendrix, Cassandra L; Thomason, Moriah E

Human brain mapping. 2023 Mar; 44(4):1683-1694

Hendrix, C L; Ji, L; Werchan, D M; Majbri, A; Trentacosta, C J; Burt, S A; Thomason, M E

Biological psychiatry global open science. 2023; (),(2023):

Kjos, Nils; Hendrix, Cassandra L; Thomason, Moriah E

Preventive medicine reports. 2022 Dec; 30:102020