With the help of a $7.5 million grant from the New York-based Simons Foundation founded by James and Marilyn Simons, MIT brain researchers are undertaking an ambitious multi-faceted approach to understanding the genetic, molecular and behavioral aspects of autism.
The projects are:
-Using new gene targeting, physiological and imaging techniques, the Sur team will develop tools for creating mouse and other animal models for autism and explore whether autism-related genes are involved in two key aspects of brain development and function in the cerebral cortex.
-Bear will look at mutations in the gene causing Fragile X syndrome, which shares similarities with autism. Bear’s work indicates that by blocking a single brain chemical, many of the psychiatric and neurological disabilities associated with Fragile X and autism could be treated.
-Using state-of-the-art brain imaging techniques, Gabrieli will seek to understand how neurons play a role in autistic individuals’ problems with social interaction and face recognition.
-Graybiel’s team has cloned genes that may be related to autism or related disorders and will seek to understand the function of two molecules of a particular group. This information may lead to new mouse models.
-Sinha studies face processing ability in children with autism and is developing a methodology called VisTA (Visual Training and Assessment) to help them refine skills such as maintaining eye contact and reading facial expressions, body postures and gestures.
-Tonegawa’s team will investigate the functional interaction between two genes that are implicated in both Fragile X syndrome and autism.