Probing Sensation and Behavior in Autism Spectrum Disorder Models

2020 Scientific Innovations Award
Sandeep Robert Datta, M.D., Ph.D.
Harvard University

Carl & Marilynn Thoma Foundation Scientific Innovations Award

Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) are characterized by repetitive behaviors and deficits in the core domains of language development and social interactions. While many ASD patients exhibit deficits in sensory processing, the neural basis for these deficits are incompletely understood. Here, we will use advanced methods in perceptual and behavioral analysis to ask whether mice that have been genetically engineered to harbor mutations found in human autism exhibit sensory deficits (or deficits in behavioral responses to sensory cues). If so, we will use recently developed methods in brain imaging to explore and characterize deficits in sensory processing in higher brain circuits. Here we will focus on understanding the degree to which ASD model mice have normal sense of smell, which is the main sense used by mice to explore the environment and to interact socially. Interestingly, deficits in olfaction have been reported in human patients with ASDs. Taken together, the proposed experiments represent the first comprehensive analysis of olfactory perception, olfactory circuit function and odor-driven behavior in ASD model mice, one which is essential for understanding the deficits in social interaction that form a core shared phenotype across both mouse ASD models and human patients.

Other Awards

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