Projects in recruitment

Effects of a combined therapeutic approach on social functioning in autism spectrum disorder: A trial of beta-adrenergic antagonism and early intensive behavioral intervention

The purpose of this study is to examine the effects of a beta-blocker called propranolol in combination with early behavioral intervention on social and language abilities in children with autism. This drug has been used in the past for performance anxiety and test anxiety.  In this study, we are looking at the effects of propranolol when it is taken before sessions of early behavioral intervention. We are also interested in the effects of this drug on anxiety. We will measure these effects using a series of tasks and questionnaires.

For more information, contact: David Beversdorf, MD at

Other works in progress 

Effects maternal stress susceptibility and prenatal stress on the offspring microbiome in a mouse model

Our previous work demonstrated effects of prenatal stress exposure in genetically stress susceptible dams results in autism-associated behaviors in the offspring, with associated epigenetic changes and alterations in neural migration. This work aims to examine the interrelationship between these findings and the microbiome.

Epigenetic and maternal antibodies and their relationship to maternal stress susceptibility and prenatal stress exposure in families with ASD

(In collaboration with Children’s Mercy Hospital at UMKC, and University of California-Davis)

Our previous work demonstrated that the risk of ASD in patients in association with prenatal stress exposure is mediated by the presence of maternal genetic susceptibility to stress.  This work aims to explore how this may relate to epigenetic changes and to the presence of maternal antibodies to fetal brain, also known to be associated with ASD.

Projects under analysis

Effect of elderberry juice on cognition and inflammation in patients with mild cognitive impairment

This double-blind placebo controlled pilot clinical trial aims to examine the efficacy of elderberry juice as a novel treatment for those at risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Elderberry has been shown to have potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.

Vertical Line bisection ability in patients with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Previous research revealed that typically developing individuals exhibit a top-­end bias when performing an eye­level vertical line bisection task, likely due to human tendency to look into another person's eyes (which lay above the midline) when communicating face-to-face. However, individuals with ASD tend to focus on the mouth, which lays below the midline. Our project aims to determine if the mechanisms behind the top-end bisection bias is linked to mechanisms by which we communicate face-to-face.

Trial of Propranolol in Children and Youth with ASD and Predictors of Response

This clinical trial, funded by the Department of Defense, is examining the effects of propranolol on sociability in individuals with autism spectrum disorder.

For more information, contact Brad Ferguson, PhD at

Effects of Stimulant Medication on Cognition in Individuals with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

The MU Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory is looking for people 18 years old and older with an ADHD diagnosis who currently take stimulant medication for their ADHD symptoms. Participants will attend 2 sessions in the morning hours – one session where the ADHD medication is taken prior to the study visit, and one where the medication is withheld until after the visit. During both sessions, participants will complete problem solving tasks. Monetary compensation is provided for participants.

If you are interested in participating, please contact Dr. Brad Ferguson at

The use of MR spectroscopy as a neuroimaging biomarker for predicting treatment response to memantine in autism spectrum disorder. 

The project, funded by the University of Missouri Research Board, aims to assess whether glutamate/GABA levels in certain regions of the brain can predict who does or does not respond to treatment with the glutamate antagonist drug, memantine, in autism spectrum disorder.

Effects of paced breathing on cognitive flexibility

Previous studies have shown that propranolol, a beta adrenergic antagonist, can reduce the negative effects of stress on problem solving abilities.  Investigations using meditation training showed decreases on social evaluative stress without pharmacological intervention.  A component of medication training is slowed breathing, so it may be possible to decrease the stress response through slowed breathing alone.  If relaxation techniques are as effective as propranolol in alleviating problem solving deficits, the future of this project can possibly benefit those who suffer from test or public speaking anxiety.

Brad Ferguson, PhD 

Psychophysiological Biomarkers of Stress as Predictors of Behavioral Disturbance in Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Toward Individualized Treatment

This project is a collaborative effort between the MU Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory and The Center for Discovery in Hurleyville, NY, on the relationship between skin conductance level and the subsequent occurrence of problem behavior in individuals with autism spectrum disorder.

Contact: Brad Ferguson, PhD 

Relationship Between Gastrointestinal Disorders and Stress Reactivity, Immunity, and Blood Serotonin in Autism Spectrum Disorders

Funded by the Autism Speaks – Autism Treatment Network and the Autism Intervention Research on Physical Health, this project is examining the relationship between the stress response and gastrointestinal symptoms in autism spectrum disorder.

Contact: Brad Ferguson, PhD

Neuroimaging markers effects of genetics and stress on cognitive processing in healthy adults using fMRI

The project looks at the effect of the serotonin transporter gene polymorphisms (5HTTLPR) and stress on brain activity during cognitive processing in healthy adults.

Diet-stress interaction in Alzheimer’s disease

Both diet and stress have been independently shown to effect development of Alzheimer’s disease. Previous research has shown that diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids are protective against development of Alzheimer’s disease. However, research has shown that a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease is life stress and psychological distress. Our project aims to determine whether diet and stress interact in the development of Alzheimer’s disease.