• Virji-Babul, Naznin


    Affiliate Investigator, BC Children's Hospital
    Associate Professor, Department of Physical Therapy, Faculty of Medicine, University of British Columbia

    Degrees / Designations
    BHsc(PT), MA, PhD
    Primary Area of Research
    Brain, Behaviour & Development
    Secondary Area(s) of Research
    Lab Phone
    Mailing Address

    BC Children's Hospital
    Room L412
    4480 Oak Street
    Vancouver, BC, V6H 3V4

    Affiliate Websites
    Research Areas
    • Cognitive Neuroscience
    • Down Syndrome
    • Developmental Disabilities
    • Perception and Action
    • Motor Control
    • Motor Learning
    • Aging
    • MEG
    Our group uses a combination of behavioural and brain imaging tools (i.e. MEG) to probe the brain and investigate the patterns of brain activation as they relate to perceptual-motor and social-emotional development in children and adults with developmental disabilities.  Our research has shown that in adults with Down syndrome, there are distinct differences in the timing, pattern and location of brain activity during functional tasks.  We will be exploring how information based on brain dynamics can be effectively integrated into intervention for children and adults with developmental disabilities.
    Current Projects

    Mirrors in the Brain

    Humans have a remarkable ability to understand the actions and intentions of other people, and to imitate these same actions. How we understand and interpret the actions and an emotion of others has been a central question in neuroscience. Advances in neuroscience in the last decade have led to the discovery of new class of brain cells called mirror neurons. These cells not only fire when we perform an action but also when we watch someone else performing the same action. This discovery has generated tremendous excitement as some scientists speculate that the mirror neuron system may form the basis of our social behaviour, our ability to imitate, acquire language and show empathy. The question we asked is whether this system is intact in individuals with Down syndrome. Results from our work indicates that although there is a link between perception and action in individuals with DS, the mirror neuron system may not function in the same way as in typical individuals. We are now in the process of designing research studies to investigate whether targeted “observation intervention” can cause changes in the underlying activation patterns in the brain.

    Perception of Motion and Emotion 

    Social behavior depends upon inferences that are based on the perception and interpretation of other people’s actions and emotions. Given the fundamental importance of accurately perceiving socially relevant information, we are studying how children and adults (with and without DS) perceive this information. We present short video clips showing animations of people performing different actions or portraying a variety of emotional expressions in the movement of their bodies. We are currently investigating how the underlying patterns of brain activity are modulated by the emotional content of the actions.

    Aging in Down Syndrome: A Model for Preclinical Alzheimer's Disease

    Postmortem studies show that at 40 years of age, almost all subjects with DS have neuropathological changes that meet the pathological criteria for AD. These changes include extensive cerebral atrophy, accumulation of ßamyloid, extracellular senile plaques and intracellular neurofibrillary tangles in the hippocampus and frontal and temporal cortices. DS is therefore an extremely useful model to study the preclinical stages of AD as middle aged individuals can be identified prior to any clinical signs of dementia. Our goal is to use MEG data to compute measures of functional connectivity that may be useful in predicting the onset of dementia.  

    Selected Publications

    Virji-Babul, N., Kerns, K., Zhou, E., Kapur, A., Shiffrar, M. (2006). Perceptual-motor deficits in children with Down syndrome: Implications for intervention.  Down Syndrome Research and Practice.  10(2) 74-82.

    Virji-Babul, N., Hovorka, R., Jobling, A. (2006). Playground dynamics: Perceptual-motor behaviour and peer interactions of young children with Down syndrome.  Journal of Developmental Disabilities. 12(1) Supp 2

    Virji-Babul, N., Eichmann, A., Kisly, D., Down, J., Haslam, R. (2007).   Use of Health Care Guidelines on Down syndrome by family physicians across Canada.  Paediatrics and Child Health. 12( 3) 179-183.

    Virji-Babul, N. Moiseev, A., Cheung, T., Weeks, D., Cheyne, D., Ribary, U. (2008).  Changes in mu rhythm during action observation and execution in adults with Down syndrome: Implications for action representation, Neurosci. Letters 9;436(2):177-80.

    Virji-Babul N and Weeks, D. (2009) Perception, Action, Cognition: New Perspectives on Down syndrome.  International Review of Research on Mental Retardation.  Vol 38: 147-170.

    Virji-Babul, N., Moiseev, A., Cheung, T., Weeks, D., Cheyne, D., Ribary, U. (2010).  Spatial-temporal dynamics of cortical activity underlying reaching and grasping: Implications for understanding the mirror neuron system.  Human Brain Mapping. 31, 1: 160-171.

    Virji-Babul, N., Moiseev, A., Cheung, T., Weeks, D.J., Cheyne, D., Ribary, (2010). U. Neural mechanisms underlying action observation in adults with Down syndrome.  American Journal on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. 115, 113-127.

    Moiseeva N, Moiseev A,  Lott I, Haier R, Head K, Ribary U, Virji-Babul N (2010) Brain network connectivity dynamics during voluntary finger movement in right handed adults with Down syndrome: Evidence for contralateral and ipsilateral dominance. In S. Supek, A Sŭsac (Eds.) Proceedings of the 17th International Conference on Biomagnetism. International Congress Series. 28: 393-396. New York, NY: Springer.

    W. Sun, A. Moiseev, F. Beg, U. Ribary, and N. Virji-Babul (2010) Cortical Dynamics Underlying the Visual Perception of Stationary and Moving Stimuli. In S. Supek, A Sŭsac (Eds.) Proceedings of the 17th International Conference on Biomagnetism. IFMBE Proceedings. 28: p. 282 - 285. New
    York, NY: Springer.

    Watt K, Johnson P and Virji-Babul.  The perception of friendship in adults with Down syndrome.  Accepted: (August 2010): Journal of Intellectual Disability Research.

    Virji-Babul, N., Watt, K., Nathoo, F., Johnson, P. (2012). Recognition of facial expressions of emotion in adults with Down syndrome. Phys Occup Ther Pediatr. Aug;32(3):333-43

    Virji-Babul, N., Rose, A., Moiseeva, N., Makan, N. (2012) Neural correlates of action understanding in infants: influence of motor experience. Brain and Behavior. 2(3):237-42.

    Ismail, S.,  Sun, W., Nathoo, F.S., Babul, A.,  Moiseev, A., Beg,M.F., Virji-Babul, N. (2012).  A Skew-t Space-Varying Regression Model for the Spectral Analysis of Resting State Brain Activity. Statistical Methods in Medical Research. May 20.

    Virji-Babul N, Moiseev A, Sun W, Fesharaki A, Beg F, Ribary U. (2012).   Dynamics of oscillatory changes associated with the perception of human motion. Neuroreport. 12;23(13):793-8.

    Virji-Babul, N., Borich, M., Makan, N., Moore, TD., Frew, K., Emery, C., Boyd, L. (2013) Diffusion tensor imaging of sport related concussion in adolescents: Pediatric Neurology 48:24-29

    Virji-Babul, N.,  Moiseev, A., Sun, W., Feng, T., Moiseeva, N., Watt, K. (2013) Neural correlates of music recognition in Down syndrome. Brain and Cognition 81: 256-262


    Virji-Babul, N. NSERC Discovery Grant (2014)

    Virji-Babul, N., Ribary, Urs.  NSERC Discovery Grant ($75,000: 2008-2013).

    Virji-Babul, N. Weeks, D., Roberts, L., et al.  (2006-2008) MEG Laboratory Infrastructure Funds. Human Early Learning Partnership (HELP) Grant (160,000.00).

    Virji-Babul, N., Weeks, D., Chua, R., Young, A., Roberts, L.E., Stapells, D.R., Wellington, C. Auditory, Language, and Motor Development in Developmental Disability;  Michael Smith Foundation Child and Youth Research Network Workshop Attendance Grant ($5000.00).

    Weeks, D., et al. (2005) BCKDF "BC MEG Neuroscience Unit (MEGNU): Optimizing Development in People with Disabilities ($1,441,458.00).

    Virji-Babul, N., Iarocci, G., Kerns, K., & Roberts, L. (2005-2006). Cognitive and sensorimotor development: Correlating developmental milestones with dynamic brain imaging measures. Human Early Learning Partnership (H.E.L.P) Grant ($10,000).

    Iarocci, G., & Virji-Babul, N. (November, 2004-2005) Multidisciplinary intervention and research program for infants/children with Down syndrome. Human Early Learning Partnership (H.E.L.P) Grant ($33,000).

    Honours & Awards

    International Scholarship, Columbia University, New York, NY (1989-1990)

    Hatfield Trust Award, Hatfield Foundation, UK (1990-1991)

    Aga Khan Foundation Canada Scholarship (1992-1993)

    Special University Scholarship, University of Western Ontario (1991-1993)

    University of Western Ontario’s Best Neuroscience Ph.D. Thesis Award (1995) 

    NSERC Postgraduate Scholarship  (1993-1995)

    Research Group Members
    • Kim Watt - Graduate Student
    • Wenqi Sun - Graduate Student