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, Dr. Datta’s lab 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, they will use recently developed methods in brain imaging to explore and characterize deficits in sensory processing in higher brain circuits. Here Dr. Datta 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

James J DiCarlo, M.D., Ph.D., Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Using Computer Models of the Neural Mechanisms of Visual Processing to Non-Invasively Modulate Brain States
DiCarlo’s research team is exploring an innovative approach to address emotional challenges, such as anxiety and depression. Traditional treatments for these disorders can be complex and often cause unpleasant side effects,…
Eiman Azim, Ph.D., The Salk Institute for Biological Studies
Learning from Error: Defining how Cerebellar Circuits Drive Adaptation in a Changing World
The ability to move effectively through the world is one of the most important functions of the brain. However, the world and the body are constantly changing, meaning the signals…
Hillel Adesnik, Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley
All Optically Probing the Neural Codes of Perception in the Primate Brain
How patterns of action potentials in space and time give rise to sensory experience is among the most enduring mysteries of biology. Despite decades of experiments correlating brain activity patterns…
Chaolin Zhang, Ph.D., Columbia University
Human-specific Alternative Splicing, Brain
Development, and Ciliopathies
Like movie frames needing to be edited to tell an engaging story, pieces of genetic information stored in DNA for each gene need to be sliced and rejoined, through a…