Scientific Research on Innovative Areas, a MEXT Grant-in-Aid Project: Constructive Developmental Science: Revealing the Principles of Development from Fetal Period and Systematic Understanding of Developmental Disorders


Open-Type Research


Project Leader   Toshiro Inui

The goals of this study are to reveal the neural bases of cognitive development, and to model them at the level of neural networks. In particular, we elucidate a developmental transition from embodied to dis-embodied cognition, in other words, an emerging process from representation to metarepresentation. We further propose a neural network model of a developmental disorder of communication. This model builds upon our recent conceptualization of two brain mechanisms: ‘like-me’ system for imitation and ‘different-from-me’ system for theory of mind. We argue that dynamic switching between these two systems enables normal recognition of self and others. The significance and originality of this study is that we formulate six hypotheses for brain mechanisms involved in cognitive development, examine them by functional neuroimaging, and develop a coherent theory for understanding various developmental findings at the level of their neural implementation.

Project Leader Hideo Yamauchi

Study on objective motor development analysis and turning point of voluntary movement from fetal period to infancy

Hideo Yamanouchi, MD, Shun Nakamura, PhD

*Department of Pediatrics, Saitama Medical University,*Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology

Cerebral palsy (CP) is non-progressive neurological disorder with static etiology in central nervous systems provoked in the fetal or neonatal period.  The diagnosis of CP in early infancy is sometimes difficult even for child neurology specialist, and may be waited until the second year of life. Malfunction of turning-off primitive reflexes and turning-on the development of voluntary movements may be one of the characteristic features of CP.  The aim of our study is to evaluate objectively the early motor developments during the period from fetus to early childhood and to explore the useful methods for the early diagnosis of CP and its related disorder, which will explore a rational to embody the top-down mechanism for the suppression of primitive reflexes and the expression of voluntary movements in a systematic understanding of developmental disorders.


Project Leader Kazuyuki Shinohara

In elucidating the underlying mechanism determining the developmental course of social communication ability, it is imperative to model the developmental course from a comprehensive perspective encompassing from the fetal environment, the care-taking behaviors of the parents, and the infant’s own vulnerability to these environmental factors. It is highly conceivable that both parental behaviors and infant’s vulnerability to the environmental factors are at least partly determined by the genetic predisposition. On the basis of these considerations, the present study aims to construct a realistic model of the typical and atypical developmental-course of social communication ability placing special emphasis on the complex gene-environment interaction. More specifically, in the present study, we collect a longitudinal dataset including the variables of fetal environment, parental behavior, genetic polymorphism, and hormonal function. The causal relationship between these variables and the indicators of the social communication ability such as the early evaluation of the autistic symptom severity is statistically modelled. The ultimate goal of the present study is to evaluate the contribution of the genetic and environmental factors to the expression and the severity of the atypical development of social communication ability.


Project Leader Toshio Tsuji

Development of a diagnostic support system for general movements in infants via markerless motion analysis

 Early detection of disorders/disabilities in infants is not only extremely helpful for prognostic prediction, symptom relief and introduction of habilitation, but can also make a major contribution to the understanding of developmental disorders. The purpose of this study is to develop a novel screening method that enables the identification of high-risk infants based on quantitative evaluation of general movements (GMs) via markerless motion analysis. To achieve this goal, this project will first develop a method that allows markerless measurement of GMs in infants from video images so that motion analysis can be carried out without placing a burden on the subject. The relationships between GMs characteristics and autonomic nervous activity in infants will then be analyzed, and finally a novel probabilistic index for GM evaluation based on motion features and nervous activity will be proposed.

Project Leader  Osuke Iwata

Casting light to the biological rhythm during the transitional period

 Centre for Developmental & Cognitive Neuroscience, Dept of Paediatrics, Kurume University School of Medicine, Kurume, Fukuoka, Japan

Given the interplay between the acquisition of biological rhythms and the development of cerebral functions, further understanding of the acquisition process may help minimise developmental disorders of children. Diurnal rhythms of physiological variables can be seen even in the foetus. The foetal adrenal gland serves as a peripheral circadian clock, which is entrained in almost antiphase to the maternal rhythm. After birth, the adult-type cortisol rhythm, with its acrophase in the early morning, becomes evident only after a few months. It was believed that the circadian rhythm of maternal origin was temporally lost for a while.

Our recent study which measured salivary cortisol every 3 hours over 24 hours demonstrated a biphasic hormonal increase in the late afternoon and in correspondence with the daily birth time, suggesting that the adrenal circadian rhythm acquired in utero may be re-entrained by endocrinological events at birth. Our current project focuses on the continuous, multimodal monitoring of biological cycles using non-invasive techniques, such as actigraphy, near-infrared spectroscopy, sleep polysomnography and salivary hormonal assay. Such an approach may elucidate the detailed acquisition process and determination factors of biological cycles, and may help develop procedures to induce early establishment of a day-night sleep cycle in infants.




Project Leader  Michiko Miyazaki

Immediately after (and even before) the birth, human infants develop self-concepts on variable levels. Especially, infants around 9 month old of age are said that they pass the landmark of becoming intentional agents. These infants can differentiate their actions from goals, and choose the appropriate action to achieve their goals as intentional agents (Piaget, 1952; Willatts, 1999). Whereas, little empirical evidence has been provided. There is no empirical evidence for an unproven hypothesis that infants become intentional at 9 months. How do infants become intentional agents and gather a conscious sense of self-agency? To tackle this problem, we proposed a new experiment task that uses the gaze-contingent paradigm, named scratch image task. The task enables participants to scratch off a black layer on a computer display and find out colorful pictures behind the layer by their own gaze (Figure 1.). A series of experiments is revealing that 8-month-olds could be considered as intentional agents. We aim to clarify the developmental transition of the sense of self-agency.

Fig. 1. The scratch image task. Participants were able to “scratch off” the black layer by gazing.

Project Leader Tamami  Nakano

The mechanism of social cognitive development through reciprocal interactions between cortex and subcortex, and its disorders.

Face is one of the most important social information. This project aims to elucidate the functional development of face cognition at each cortical and subcortical level and their reciprocal interactions. Moreover, I hypothesizes that the disorders of this reciprocal interactions induce abnormal development of social ability such as autism spectrum disorders. To investigate these issues, this project applies s-cone isolating stimulation to the facial information. The information of the s-cone-isolating stimuli is conveyed through the geniculate-cortical pathway rather than the subcortical (tectal-pulvinar) pathway. By applying this stimulation to infants and adults with and without autism, this project examines the mechanisms of functional development of face cognition and its disorders with behavioral and neuroimaging methods.


Project Leader Hiroko Kamide

The aim is to establish the methodology to evaluate the phenomenological viewpoint in developmental disorders and develop the model which predicts the relationship between the phenomenological viewpoint and well-being. To achieve this goal this study adopts a social psychological approach which clarifies the structure of the phenomenological viewpoint and also quantifies it from developmental perspectives, then tests the theoretical hypothesis based on the findings of C01 group. This study also focuses on well-being and conducts the longitudinal studies comparing people with developmental disorders with normal people in order to reveal the structure of the phenomenological viewpoint which relates to well-being especially in developmental disorders.

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