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Transforming the understanding
and treatment of mental illnesses.

Tonya Jo Hanson White, M.D., Ph.D.

Tonya Jo Hanson White, M.D., Ph.D.

Section on Social and Cognitive Developmental Neuroscience


Dr. Tonya White is Chief of the Section on Social and Cognitive Developmental Neuroscience. She received a BSc in Electrical Engineering (Magna Cum Laude) from the University of Utah and a MSc. In Electrical Engineering from the University of Illinois, Champaign/Urbana. Overlapping graduate school with medical studies, she received her medical degree from the University of Illinois College of Medicine (James Scholar) after which she completed a combined residency in Pediatrics, Psychiatry, and Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the University of Utah. Following a postdoctoral research fellowship at the University of Iowa, she then spent eight years developing and running a youth psychosis clinical research program at the University of Minnesota. In 2005 she started to work on a Ph.D. in bioengineering at the University of Minnesota and completed her Ph.D. at the Erasmus University in the Netherlands in 2010. In 2009 she moved to the Erasmus University Medical Center to build and direct a pediatric population-based neuroimaging program within the Generation R Study, of which by the time she left, over 5000 children were imaged in four waves of data collection. She left her ‘leerstoel’ (Professor of Pediatric Population Neuroimaging) at the Erasmus in July 2022 to join the NIMH.

Research Interests

Each individual is unique. Children or adolescents with the same psychiatric diagnosis can have varying degrees of core and co-morbid symptoms. Even monozygotic twins, whose identical genetic makeup allow for highly similar individuals, differ in specific characteristics. These individual differences are attributed to non-shared environmental factors, however, many of these environmental factors influence neurodevelopment with mechanisms or resolution that escape measurement, and thus are, in essence, stochastic processes. Dr. White’s long-term goals are to better understand individual differences in youth with mental health disorders, including the interplay between genes, environment, and stochastic processes. Even twins who are concordant for a specific disorder, such as autism, may have considerable differences when evaluating symptom domains along the continuum. Thus, a better understanding of factors that can influence symptom domains across the continuum can shed light into the underlying mechanisms of mental health problems.

While there is heterogeneity in symptom domains, it is interesting that the core symptoms of specific disorders, albeit differences in severity, have classic patterns that cluster together and allow for identification. Thus, an additional goal of Dr. White is to apply machine learning, pattern recognition algorithms to be able to extract the brain-based patterns that associate with core symptoms along their spectrum. Finally, Dr. White also has a long-standing interest to study younger children and develop primary prevention strategies to (hopefully) help curb the onset of neurodevelopmental disorders in children.

Selected Publications

White T (2019) Brain development and stochastic processes during prenatal and early life: You can’t lose it if you’ve never had it; but it’s better to have it and lose it, than never to have had it at all. J Amer Acad Child Adol Psychiatr 58(11): 1042-1050. [Pubmed Link]

Muetzel RL, Blanken LME, van der Ende J, El Marroun H, Shaw P, Sudre G, van der Lugt A, Jaddoe, V, Verhulst FC, Tiemeier H, White T (2018) Tracking brain development and dimensional psychiatric symptoms in children: A longitudinal population-based neuroimaging study. Amer J Psychiatr 175(1): 52-62. [Pubmed Link]

Durkut M, Blok E, Suleri A, White T (2022) The longitudinal bidirectional relationship between autistic traits and brain morphology from childhood to adolescence: a population-based cohort study. Mol Autism 13(1):31. doi: 10.1186/s13229-022-00504-7. [Pubmed Link]

Jansen PR, Dremmen M, van den Berg A, Dekkers IA, Blanken LME, Muetzel RL, Bolhuis K, Mulder RM, Kocevska D, Jansen TA, de Wit MY, Neuteboom RF, Polderman TJC, Posthuma D, Jaddoe VWV, Verhulst FC, Tiemeier H, van der Lugt A, White T (2017) Incidental findings on brain imaging in the general pediatric population. New England Journal of Medicine 377(16): DOI: 10.1056/NEJMc1710724. [Pubmed Link]

Muetzel RL, Blanken LME, Thijssen S, van der Lugt A, Jaddoe VWV, Verhulst FC, Tiemeier H, White T (2016) Resting-state networks in 6-to-10 year old children. Human Brain Mapping 37(12): 4286-4300. [Pubmed Link]

Tonya White
10 Center Drive, CRC/4-2352
Bethesda, MD 20892
Tel: (301) 402-4000