About Sickkids
About SickKids

Jason Lerch, PhD

Research Institute
Neurosciences & Mental Health

Phone: 647-837-5817
Fax: 647-837-5832
e-mail: jason@phenogenomics.ca

Brief Biography

I completed my PhD in the department of Neurology and Neurosurgery at McGill University, where I focused on the study of cortical thickness from human MR images, and followed that with a post-doctoral fellowship at MICe at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids). I recently joined SickKids as a scientist and I am working both with the Mouse Imaging Centre (MICe) as well as the human imaging group.

Research Interests

  • Brain plasticity: how the shape of the brain changes in response to learning
  • Understanding what factors influence neuroanatomy
  • Developing novel methods for analyzing structural MR images
  • Studying human neurological/neuropsychiatric diseases
  • The use of imaging to investigate mouse models of disease

Research Activities

My research program is focused on how the brain changes its shape. For this we use both mouse models as well as human subjects combined with MR imaging and advanced image processing techniques to understand subtle changes in neuroanatomy. Some particular examples include:

MRI of learning and memory
Research using human imaging, including the famous study of the hippocampus of London Taxi drivers, has indicated that experience and expertise is reflected on local structures of the brain. In order to understand these effects better we’ve trained mice on three versions of the Morris water maze and found that we can grow differing regions of the brain depending on the training paradigm used. The initial experiment used ex vivo MRI; we are now using histology to understand the cellular causes of these volume changes and are also attempting to move the study to in vivo MRI in order to be able to follow individual mice through the various stages of learning.

The effect of specialized training on the human brain
There is increasing evidence that subtle variations in our brains reflect past experience. A particularly potent modifier of brain shape appears to be learning a specialized skill, such as a musical instrument, ballet, etc. This part of my research program will attempt to delineate precisely how such learning changes our brains, and relate these findings back to work in the mouse in order to ascertain more precise cellular and genetic contributions.

Methods of analyzing neuroanatomy
The research projects outlined above depend on precise automated measurements of brain shape from MRI. I use a combination of image registration techniques, tissue classification and deformable models to obtain these measurements. Ongoing research will thus also focus on improving these methods as well as understanding precisely what they can and cannot tell us.

Future Research Interests

The combination of 3D imaging, computer analysis, and the ability to use the same techniques in both human populations and mouse models provides a powerful platform to gain greater insights into how our brains work. Characterizing how our brains adjust to learning, memory, as well as disease will thus continue to be the focus of my research.

External Funding

  • Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR)
  • Alzheimer’s Association
  • GenomeCanada


Lerch JP, Carroll JB, Dorr A, Spring S, Evans AC, Hayden MR, Sled JG, Henkelman RM. (2008). Cortical thickness measured from MRI in the YAC128 mouse model of Huntington's disease. NeuroImage, 41(2), 243-51. doi: S1053-8119(08)00125-0.

Lerch JP, Carroll JB, Spring S, Bertram LN, Schwab C, Hayden MR, Henkelman RM. (2008). Automated deformation analysis in the YAC128 Huntington disease mouse model. NeuroImage, 39(1), 32-9. doi: S1053-8119(07)00747-1.

Bohbot VD, Lerch J, Thorndycraft B, Iaria G, Zijdenbos AP. (2007). Gray matter differences correlate with spontaneous strategies in a human virtual navigation task. The Journal of Neuroscience: The Official Journal of the Society for Neuroscience, 27(38), 10078-83. doi: 27/38/10078.

Nieman BJ, Lerch JP, Bock NA, Chen X, Sled JG, Henkelman RM. (2007). Mouse behavioral mutants have neuroimaging abnormalities. Human Brain Mapping, 28(6), 567-75. doi: 10.1002/hbm.20408.

Shaw P, Greenstein D, Lerch J, Clasen L, Lenroot R, Gogtay N, Evans A, Rapoport J, Giedd J. (2006). Intellectual ability and cortical development in children and adolescents. Nature, 440(7084), 676-9. doi: nature04513.

Lerch JP, Worsley K, Shaw WP, Greenstein DK, Lenroot RK, Giedd J, Evans AC. (2006). Mapping anatomical correlations across cerebral cortex (MACACC) using cortical thickness from MRI. NeuroImage, 31(3), 993-1003. doi: S1053-8119(06)00042-5.

Lerch JP, Evans AC. (2005). Cortical thickness analysis examined through power analysis and a population simulation. NeuroImage, 24(1), 163-73. doi: S1053-8119(04)00418-5.