I am the director of the Diffusion Tensor Image Analyses and Brain Morphometry Center in the Department of Radiology of the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. I have worked on numerous projects involving the human brain for the past 20 years. My initial fascination with the brain stemmed from my doctoral dissertation at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which involved the treatment of glioblastoma brain tumors using a reactor beam. Over the years I have developed comprehensive neuroimaging skills in areas such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), perfusion, spectroscopy and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI).
Recently, my research method has increasingly involved the new and revolutionary technique of DTI and tractography. DTI is a powerful tool, which has added a new dimension to the art of imaging in both the clinical and research fields. I began using DTI in 2001. Since then, I’ve led the image acquisition and data post-processing and analyses of multiple projects such as Children with Early Onset of Schizophrenia, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Autism.
DTI is primarily used for white matter assessment; however, I have recently used this powerful tool to evaluate gray matter changes in a group of children with Asperger’s syndrome. My study showed enlargement of gray matter in individuals with autism in the area of the brain related to social processing and learning by observation. Individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have difficulty relating to others and typically fail to show the responses necessary for interpersonal communication. There is evidence that lack of imitation in autism arises, in part, from dysfunction of their brain’s mirror neuron system (MNS). The MNS contains networks of brain cells that are active when a person performs an action as well as when a person observes another individual make a similar action. My plan at the Center for Autism Research is to investigate MNS dysfunction in autism spectrum disorders by performing MRI and MEG. Study findings may help understand the brain areas and mechanisms that clinicians attempt to modify in intervention programs that improve imitation functions in affected children.
I joined the Radiology Department at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in 2007. Before that I was the director of the Functional MR Laboratory at the Long Island Jewish Hospital in New Hyde Park, NY and worked closely with the researchers at the Fay J. Lindner Center for Autism at North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System in Bethpage, NY.
Sample of Significant Publications
Ashtari M, Cervellione KC, Hasan KM, McIlree C, Kester H, Ardekani BA, Roofeh D, Wu J, Szeszko PR, Kumra S. White Matter Development during Late Adolescence in Healthy Males: A Cross-Sectional Diffusion Tensor Imaging Study. Neuroimage. April 1, 2007. 35(2): 501-510.
Ashtari M, Cottone J, Ardekani BA, Cervellione K, Szeszko PR, Wu J, Chen S, Kumra S. Lower white matter integrity of the inferior longitudinal fasciculus is associated with visual hallucinations in adolescents with schizophrenia. Arch Gen Psychiatry. Nov 2007. 64(11): 1270-1280.
Ashtari M, Kumra S, Bhaskar S, Clarke T, Thaden E, Cervellione K, Rhinewine J, Kane J, Adesman A, Milanaik R, Maytal J, Diamond A, Szeszko P, Ardekani B. Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: A Preliminary Diffusion Tensor Imaging Study. Biol Psychiatry. 2005. 57(5): 448-55.
Kumra S, Ashtari M, Anderson B, Cervellione KL, Kan L. Ethical and practical considerations in the management of incidental findings in pediatric MRI studies. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. Aug 2006. 45(8): 1000-1006.