Azrieli Centre for Autism Research (ACAR): Transforming autism research, training and care -- improving lives via Open Science

Xiaoqian Chai

Xiaoqian Chai

Xiaoqian Chai, PhD, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery at McGill University, and a Tier II Canada Research Chair in developmental cognitive neuroscience.

She joined the Azrieli Centre for Autism Research (ACAR) in 2020. 

What drives your research?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) affects a significant number of children, and yet we still have very little understanding of the complex and heterogeneous profile of the cognitive and social characteristics, and how they manifest in the brain of autistic children and youth.

I think understanding the neurocognitive development of autism will contribute ultimately to more effective and personalized intervention options.

How will your lab's research help to improve the lives of autistic individuals?

We are intrigued by the impacts on different forms of memory in autistic children. For example, in autism, detailed personal memory of past events seems to be more affected than memories of facts and general knowledge. We are trying to better understand the brain systems that are driving this difference. We are also trying to find ways to identify different neurosubtypes of ASD in order to better understand the heterogeneity of the condition.

Our work will lead to a better understanding of the developmental origins of brain alterations and cognitive systems involved in learning and memory. Advances in such understanding may ultimately lead to more targeted and personalized intervention options related to learning and social interactions.

What do you hope to gain from being a member of ACAR?

ACAR brings together an excellent network of autism researchers who are from different but complementary disciplines.

Our research benefits from this great environment, as well as support from its connection to the provincial network, the Transforming Autism Care Consortium (TACC) and the Quebec 1,000 (Q1K) initiative. 


Xiaoqian Chai, PhD, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery at McGill University, and a Tier II Canada Research Chair in developmental cognitive neuroscience.

The Chai Lab aims to understand the dynamic interaction between brain maturation and cognitive development in humans; how brain maturation supports cognitive development, and how learning and experiences during childhood shape brain organization.

The lab combines multimodal brain imaging, as well as behavioural and computational methods to investigate the development of functional networks in the brain, and how these networks support learning and memory development in neurotypical children and children with neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism.

Chai's research focuses on the critical developmental period between middle childhood and adolescence, which is when profound changes take place in young people's cognitive and social functioning.

Research Areas

Brain development, memory, cognitive development, language learning

List of Selected Publications

Whitfield-Gabrieli S, Wendelken C, Nieto Castañón A, Bailey AK, SA Anteraper, Lee YJ, Chai XJ, Hirshfeld-Becker DR, Biederman J, Cutting LE, Bunge SA. Association of intrinsic brain architecture with changes in attentional and mood symptoms during development. JAMA Psychiatry. 77:378-386 (2020).

Hirshfeld-Becker D, Gabrieli J, Shapero BG, Biederman J, Whitfield-Gabrieli S, Chai XJ. Intrinsic functional brain connectivity predicts onset of major depressive disorder in adolescence. Brain Connectivity, 9 (5): 388-398 (2019).

Gagan J, Anteraper SA, Chai XJ, Patil KR, Saygin ZM, Semwal M, Goldin RL, Furtak SL, Gabrieli JDE, Biederman J, Whitfield-Gabrieli S. Integration and segregation of default mode network resting-state functional connectivity in transition-age males with high-functioning autism spectrum disorder. Brain Connectivity, 7: 558-573 (2017).

Chai XJ, Hirshfeld-Becker D, Doehrmann O, Leonard J, Salvatore J, Brown A, Biederman J, Whitfield-Gabrieli S, Gabrieli JDE. Altered intrinsic functional brain architecture in children at familial risk of major depression. Biological Psychiatry 80: 848-858 (2016).


Email: xiaoqian.chai [at]

Phone: 514-398-7768


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The Neuro (Montreal Neurological Institute-Hospital) is a bilingual academic healthcare institution. We are a McGill research and teaching institute; delivering high-quality patient care, as part of the Neuroscience Mission of the McGill University Health Centre. We are proud to be a Killam Institution, supported by the Killam Trusts.



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