In brief: Nick Puts, PhD

NOTE: I moved to the new Google Sites and am in the process of changing my website.


My name is Nick (Nicolaas) Puts. I am an Assistant Professor in the division of Neuroradiology of the Russell H. Morgan Department of Radiology and Radiological Science at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, United States.

Background

Children with Autism, as well as those with other neurodevelopmental disorders, often have problems with sensory experiences (e.g. touch, loud noises, bright lights). Although we know touch is processed in the brain, we don't know what happens in the brain that makes them experience touch differently. GABA is the main inhibitory neurotransmitter in the human brain. It plays a role in making brain cells less active ('inhibiting them'), which is important for regulating brain activity. Alterations in inhibition have been shown in these disorders. As it is well known that GABA plays an important role in how touch is encoded in the brain, it's possible that those alterations in the GABA system to some degree cause sensory impairments.

Measuring touch

Tactile sensitivity is difficult to measure, and has classically been approached via questionnaires and rating scales. While informative, these metrics provide little information as to what happens in the brain during touch. We recently developed a battery of tactile tasks, probing inhibition, allowing for controlled & objective assessment of tactile sensitivity (e.g. the ability to feel very weak stimuli, or the ability to feel differences in the intensity of touch; see here for our first paper on this topic and here for further discussions of how we can measure this).

Measuring GABA

It is possible to measure the concentration of GABA 'in vivo' and non-invasively in the brain using edited Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy (see here for a review I wrote with Richard Edden). For a brief explanation, click here.

My work: GABA, touch, and neurodevelopmental disorders

My current work focuses on the investigation of brain dynamics underlying touch and in vivo magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) of GABA, to assess the relationship between what happens in the brain (GABAergic inhibition), and the behavior it ultimately leads to (tactile sensitivity). I apply these techniques in neurodevelopmental disorders, focusing on Autism Spectrum Disorder and Tourette syndrome, as well as ADHD and concussion. We have recently shown reduced GABA levels, as well as abnormal tactile function and children with Autism and children with Tourette syndrome, and have also shown that tactile abnormalities are linked to reduced inhibitory function in these children. My future work will focus on elucidating the inhibitory mechanisms further, using Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation in combination with MRS and tactile metrics.

My work: Edited MRS of GABA

Another aspect of my work involves the development of the acquisition and analysis of GABA-edited MRS data. Information and support on this topic, as well as a download link of our Gannet software, can be found on our Gannet-website (click here). We provide support to numerous sites world-wide in the application, acquisition, and analysis of edited MRS of GABA. If you are interested, feel free to drop me an email.

Science communication

I am becoming more and more interested in communicating science and teaching other scientists how to communicate. I have developed numerous workshops for children, given several public talks to people of all ages and developed workshops on science communication. One of my workshops focuses on 'giving a 10 min conference talk' mostly focused to junior scientists. Other workshops involve 'removing jargon and finding a hook' and 'elevator pitches'. Click here for more (under development).

Bio

Originally hailing from the Netherlands, I received my BSc in Biology and MSc in Cognitive Neuroscience from Utrecht University in the Netherlands and I spent time doing research at Tohoku University in Sendai, Japan and at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.

Before coming to Baltimore, I did my PhD in the Cardiff University Brain Research Imaging Centre (CUBRIC) in Cardiff, Wales, UK. During my PhD I worked with Dr. David McGonigle and I investigated the role of cortical oscillations and baseline neurochemistry (GABA) in shaping the response to tactile stimulation, focusing on brain changes during adaptation. We adapted existing behavioral methods to be applied with MEG recordings and developed and optimised the acquisition of GABA-MRS for somatosensory cortex.

At Hopkins, I predominantly work with by Dr. Richard Edden and Prof. Stewart Mostofsky, and I work in Prof. Peter Barker's group. Most of my work is performed in the F.M. Kirby Research Center for Functional Brain Imaging at the Kennedy Krieger Institute. We work very closely with Dr. Mark Tommerdahl at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Funding

I am currently funded by an NIH/NIMH K99/R00 and an American Society for NeuroRadiology Research Scholar Award.