The incidence of autistic spectrum disorders has recently been estimated to be as high as 1 out of every 166 births. It has become generally accepted that autism, in its various forms, represents a genetic and developmental, rather than a psychological, disorder. While some recent progress has been made in the identification of autism susceptibility genes, very little is known about the functions of these genes during embryonic and neonatal development of the nervous system. Dr. Robert Ho, Department of Organismal Biology and Anatomy, plans to investigate the role of a functional variant of the oncogene MET that was found to be associated within families in which two or more siblings have been diagnosed with autism. Dr. Ho hypothesizes that MET plays a role in the correct migratory behavior of neuronal precursor cells. By understanding the immediate cellular functions of the MET pathway and correlating these functions to large-scale changes in brain architecture, Dr. Ho hopes to determine if changes in MET pathway can lead to changes in the development of specific brain structures which might contribute to the autistic phenotype. The goal is to contribute to an understanding of how autism can be better diagnosed and prevented.
Robert K. Ho, Ph.D.