Dave Ellemberg , Ph.D.
    Research Axis
    Brain and Child Development Axis
    Research Theme
    Neurodevelopmental diseases

    514 343-7830

    514 343-2181

    Career Summary

    Plasticity and functional reorganisation of the developing brain: normal and pathological development

    The main objective of my research program is to understand the organization and functional plasticity of the human brain during its development, its potential for recovery as well as the limits of this plasticity. To find answers to these questions, I study the effects of different conditions (visual deprivation, concussion) on the perceptual and cognitive development of the child. My studies are based on experimental paradigms using psychophysics, electroencephalography (visual and cognitive evoked potentials), and brain imaging (DTI and MRS). These tools allow the investigation of the brain’s functions as well as the neuroelectric and neurochemical properties of the mechanisms that subtend these functions.

    Axis I: Sensory and perceptive development

    The first objective of this axis of my research is to quantify and compare the normal developmental trajectory of different visual functions. For example, we study the development of different visual functions associated to different levels of cortical processing within the visual system’s hierarchy: from contrast sensitivity and the perception of local motion, which are subtended by the primary visual cortex, to the integration of contours and the perception of global motion, which involve additional processing steps within extra-striate visual areas. To date, the results suggest that the aspects of visual perception that require several processing steps develop more slowly than those that require fewer steps.

    The second objective of this research axis is to identify the mechanisms that allow the child’s brain to integrate information simultaneously from different senses (i.e. multimodal integration). Despite an abundant scientific literature on sensory and perceptive development, our understanding of these mechanisms is still limited because senses have been mainly studied in isolation. Therefore, we still do not understand how the brain, during its development, evolves to integrate information coming simultaneously from different senses.

    I also study the effects of early visual deprivation, caused by dense and central congenital cataracts, on the development of different visual functions as well as on the development of multisensory integration. To do so, visual functions of children having normal visual abilities are compared to those of children and adults that were born with cataracts. Before being surgically removed during infancy, congenital cataracts prevent visual information from reaching and stimulating the visual system. Once the cataracts are removed, we are able to investigate the role of visual experience on the development of the visual system. The results indicate that the effects of early visual deprivation differ for aspects of vision mediated by the primary visual cortex versus those mediated by higher cortical areas.

    Axis II: Sport-related concussions

    It is now well documented that a sport-related traumatic brain injury (TBI) in the adult causes important cognitive perturbations that can persist up to two years following the injury. Although the incidence of sport-related concussions is similar in children as in adults, our understanding of the sensory and cognitive sequelae in concussed children is very limited. The objectives of this area of my research programme are:
    1) to determine the nature of the neuropsychological deficits caused by a concussion during development;
    2) to identify the associated neurophysiological and neurochemical disruptions;
    3) to determine if there is a relationship between the age at which the injury occurs and the extent of the deficits;
    4) to identify the recovery mechanisms and the limits of plasticity for different sensory and cognitive abilities as function of the age;
    5) to develop diagnostic tools for concussed children that will take into account the age of injury.

    Awards and Distinctions

    • Leaders Fund Award, 2006
    • Who's Who in Health Sciences Higher Education (WWHSHE), 2006
    • Excellence Award of the Canadian Psychological Association, 2003
    • Doctoral thesis ranked 1st in the field of Natural Sciences at University of Montreal (nomination for NSERC’s Doctoral Award), 2002
    • Brain Star Award, CIHR, Institute of Neurosciences, Mental Health and Addiction, 2002

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