Dear Mr. Bast,

You have been awarded the Weber-Bosch Prize by WGAS in March 2022 for your research paper “Atypical Arousal Regulation in children with Autism but not with ADHD as indicated by pupillometric measures of Locus Coeruleus Activity”. We would like to know more about you and your work.

Where and with whom are you currently working?

I am the head of the Clinical Research Department at KJP Frankfurt under Prof. Dr. Freitag. The Clinical Research Unit conducts clinical studies and deals with the neurobiological basis of mental disorders. There, I have established eye-tracking laboratories that enable the recording of those neurobiological bases already in infancy.

Can you describe the focus of your research? What questions are you investigating?

My main focus is the investigation of pathomechanisms using unobtrusive sensory data, so far especially in neurodevelopmental disorders with ASD and ADHD. Effective psychotherapeutic treatments for these disorders are poorly developed. One reason for this may be that neurodevelopmental disorders are not diagnosed until childhood via behavior.
diagnosed through behavior in childhood, although underlying pathomechanisms likely express aberrant cognition as early as infancy. The goal of my research is to identify and early diagnose these neurobiological pathomechanisms in order to derive individualized treatments. I am convinced that we have identified such a pathomechanism in autism with the locus coeruleus norepinephrine (LC-NE) system.

How will your research continue after the Young Investigator Award? What research questions would you like to address in the future?

We will further specify the LC-NE system as a pathomechanism in a DFG-funded project by the combined use of pupillometry and EEG. In particular, we want to manipulate LC-NE activity by physical activity. Furthermore, exciting animal models show the relevance of subcortical modulation of sensory processing by the LC-NE system. Recent clinical studies suggest that the LC-NE system may be overregulated in internalizing disorders and underregulated in externalizing disorders. Accordingly, I would like to expand my research horizons and examine the LC-NE system as a predictor of transdiagnostic psychopathology in childhood. With the event-evoked pupillary response, we have a methodology at hand that we can use as early as preschool age. I have submitted an ERC Starting Grant for this today.

Thank you very much for taking the time to answer our questions. We wish you continued success with your research projects!

Author: Naumann