SFARI Autism Rat Models Consortium awardees announced

Rat on yellow background

Zelma Brezinska/EyeEm via Getty Images

The Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI) is pleased to announce that it intends to fund seven grants in response to the Autism Rat Models Consortium request for applications (RFA).

Investigators awarded through this RFA will work collaboratively as the SFARI Autism Rat Model Consortium (ARC) to advance our understanding of the behavioral and circuit neuroscience mechanisms driving autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Contrary to the belief that they are just big mice, rats are a highly trainable species that also express a variety of innate complex behaviors, including cognitive flexibility and a rich social repertoire. Participants at a 2021 SFARI workshop agreed that the study of rat autism models could lead to: (i) better understanding of the circuit and behavioral consequences of known molecular/cellular disruptions caused by mutations in autism risk genes and (ii) better understanding of the role of development and compensation in autism.

This RFA provides SFARI ARC members grant support to work collaboratively with each other, as well as with the Simons Initiative for the Developing Brain (SIDB) at the University of Edinburgh, in leveraging the data acquired from SIDB’s behavioral phenotyping pipeline. ARC will facilitate collaboration by sharing data and organizing virtual and in-person meetings, as well as visiting scientist opportunities. “SFARI felt that the time was ripe within the current flourishing behavioral neuroscience ecosystem to build upon the rat models that SFARI has generated and our existing partnership with SIDB,” says Alice Luo Clayton, SFARI senior scientist. “We believe the combination of high-quality animal models, foundational behavioral data and a commitment to an ethos of open science are effective ingredients in creating great, mission-focused science.”

SFARI plans to commit approximately $6.74 million through this RFA over the next three years. The ARC projects selected for funding will explore a variety of functions, including perceptual decision-making, sensorimotor functioning and social processing. Investigators will incorporate both naturalistic paradigms, which facilitate the expression of the rat’s diverse behavioral repertoire, and more constrained paradigms, for which the underlying neurobiology is relatively well understood.

SFARI intends to fund the following ARC projects:

Sandeep Robert Datta, M.D., Ph.D. (Harvard Medical School)
Developing rat MoSeq to characterize autism models

Paul Dudchenko, Ph.D. (University of Stirling)
The cortical head direction system as a model for systems-level alterations in rat models of autism

Loren Frank, Ph.D.Kevin Bender, Ph.D. and David Kastner, Ph.D. (University of California, San Francisco)
Understanding the cellular and circuit bases for behavioral impairments in the Scn2a knock-out rat

Shantanu Jadhav, Ph.D. (Brandeis University)
Neural coordination mechanisms underlying social interactions in rat models of autism

Bence Ölveczky, Ph.D. (Harvard University) and Naoshige Uchida, Ph.D. (Harvard University)
Characterizing social impairments and the role of dopamine in autism rat models

Gina Turrigiano, Ph.D. (Brandeis University)
Critical period plasticity underlying complex learning in autism rat models

Davide Zoccolan, Ph.D. (Scuola Internazionale Superiore di Studi Avanzati)
Visual, perceptual and neurophysiological alterations in an Scn2a knockout rat model of autism

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