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

Senior Investigator

Section on Social and Cognitive Developmental Neuroscience


Building 10, Room 4-2352
10 Center Drive
Bethesda, MD 20892


Research Topics

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, have 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 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.


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.

Selected Publications

  1. Xerxa Y, White T, Busa S, Trasande L, Hillegers MHJ, Jaddoe VW, Castellanos FX, Ghassabian A. Gender Diversity and Brain Morphology Among Adolescents. JAMA Netw Open. 2023;6(5):e2313139.
  2. Suleri A, White T, Blok E, Cecil CAM, Reiss I, Jaddoe VWV, Gigase FAJ, Hillegers MHJ, de Witte L, Bergink V, Rommel AS. The Association Between Prenatal Infection and Adolescent Behavior: Investigating Multiple Prenatal, Perinatal, and Childhood Second Hits. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2023.
  3. Bracké KFM, Steegers CPM, van der Harst T, Dremmen MHG, Vernooij MW, White TJH, Dieleman GC. Can neuroimaging measures differentiate the disease course of anorexia nervosa? A systematic review. J Psychiatr Res. 2023;163:337-349.
  4. Zou R, Labrecque JA, Swanson SA, Steegers EAP, White T, El Marroun H, Tiemeier H. Prenatal exposure to trans fatty acids and head growth in fetal life and childhood: triangulating confounder-adjustment and instrumental variable approaches. Eur J Epidemiol. 2022;37(11):1171-1180.

Related Scientific Focus Areas

This page was last updated on Tuesday, August 15, 2023