Cognitive Control, Anxiety, and Repetitive Behaviors in Children with a Rare Genetic Disease

Dr Mirko Uljarevic is a new researcher within the Complex Human Data Hub of the Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences. Dr Mirko Uljarevic has an exemplary multidisciplinary research profile having a MD specialising in the neurophysiology of emotions, and more recently a PhD in developmental psychology, specialising in autism. He joins us from the School of Medicine at Stanford University and despite being 4 years post-PhD, he has already published over 50 journal articles and book chapters.

Last week, Dr Uljarevic, with collaborators from Stanford and UC Davis, published a study on repetitive behaviors, anxiety and cognitive control in people who suffer from a rare genetic disease. 22q11.2 deletion syndrome (also known as DiGeorge syndrome) is caused by the deletion of a small segment DNA from chromosome 22 which can cause severe physical and neurological impairments. People with 22q11.2 deletion syndrome also show high levels of repetitive behaviors, however, the previous research has not explored why people with this syndrome exhibit high rates of repetitive behaviors. Understanding the reasons for the high levels of repetitive behaviors is important given that these behaviors can be highly impairing. Dr Uljarevic’s study found that repetitive behaviors were associated with impaired ability to self‐regulate and high levels of anxiety.

This research points to cognitive control as a potentially viable target for treatments aimed at reducing this repetitive behaviour, which suggests promising possibilities that could aid clinicians in helping people suffering from this disease to manage in their daily lives.

Uljarević, M., McCabe, K. L., Angkustsiri, K., Simon, T. J., & Hardan, A. Y. (2019). Interrelationship Between Cognitive Control, Anxiety, and Restricted and Repetitive Behaviors in Children with 22q11. 2 Deletion Syndrome. Autism Research.