Tamar van Raalten

Curriculum Vitae
Tamar van Raalten was born on January 6th 1976 in Terneuzen, the Netherlands. She graduated from the Goese Lyceum in 1994. In 2000 she obtained a Master Degree in Biological Psychology and a Master Degree in Neuropsychology at University Utrecht.
Tamar van Raalten started working at the Rudolf Magnus Institute of Neuroscience, Department of Psychiatry at the University Medical Centre Utrecht as a Research Assistent contributing to several structural MRI studies in schizophrenia in March 2000. In 2001 she obtained a position as data flow coordinator in the functional MRI lab of the Department of Psychiatry.
In 2003 she started a PhD program in neuroscience in the same lab on the neural correlates of automaticity in healthy individuals and people with schizophrenia. In the first year she combined this with the position of data flow coordinator. In 2004 she spent six months at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda MD, USA working on automaticity studies with healthy individuals using several neuroimaging techniques (fMRI, MEG).
After defending her thesis in June 2009, she continued the post-doc position she started in January 2008 at the NICHE lab at the Rudolf Magnus Institute of Neuroscience Department of Child- and Adolescent Psychiatry, investigating the neural basis of rigid behavior in autism with fMRI.
In January 2010 she received a postodoctoral fellowship grant funding her proposed research on structural and functional connectivity of the frontostriatal circuitry and cognitive flexibility in autism.

Current Research Projects
Currently I am working as a postdoctoral fellow in the NICHE lab on a project investigating the neural correlates of rigid behavior in children with autism.

Besides social and communicative problems, individuals with autism display severe restrictive and rigid behavior. This behavior is characterized by obsessive habits, insistence on sameness and preoccupations. Rigid behavior induces severe problems in daily life especially when flexible and adaptive behavior is required in novel or unexpected situations. In spite of increasing attention for the neurobiological origin of autism, much remains unknown about the neural mechanisms causing rigid behavior in autism.

The major focus in this project are developmental changes in frontostriatal cicuitry of the brain. This system is important for the development of flexible and adaptive behavior in typically developing children (e.g. Durston et al. Dev Sci 2002, 2006). Adolescents and adults with autism show morphological abnormalities and different developmental trajectories for these regions (e.g. Langen et al. Biol Psych 2007, 2009). In this project we use different neuroimaging techniques to investigate how changes in structural and functional organization of the frontostriatal system contribute to inflexibility and rigidity in autism. With fMRI we investigate the relationship between brain function, behavioral measures of cognitive flexibility and symptoms of rigidity. Presently, there is no consistent relationship between everyday rigid behavior in autism and cognitive flexibility as measured in experimental settings. An important focus in this research therefore is to evaluate different aspects of developing cognitive flexibility in childhood that draw upon frontostriatal function. We further aim to combine measures of structural (DTI) and functional organization (e.g. resting state MRI) to explore the association between frontostriatal (dys)function and symptoms of severity in autism.