Rethinking autism and animal models: A systems perspective

  • Autism Research
Speaker André Fenton, Ph.D.
New York University
Date & Time


Location

Gerald D. Fischbach Auditorium
160 5th Avenue
New York, NY 10010 United States

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Tea: 4:15 – 5:00pm
Lecture: 5:00 – 6:15pm

Autism Research

Autism Research lectures bring together scientists and scholars to discuss diverse and important topics related to autism. The lectures are open to the public and are held at the Gerald D. Fischbach Auditorium at the Simons Foundation headquarters in New York City. Tea is served prior to each lecture.

On November 28, 2018, André Fenton will discuss work with mouse genetic models of fragile X syndrome (FXS) –the most common single-gene cause of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) symptoms – and focus on the utility of such models to evaluate hypotheses for understanding ASD. He will evaluate distinct hypotheses by assessing synapse function and the action potential discharge of knowledge-expressing hippocampus “place cells” during behaviors that require varying cognitive effort.

His talk is part of the Simons Foundation Autism Research lecture series.

About the Lecture

We have been amassing important knowledge about the fundamental genetic and molecular bases of ASD and related intellectual disability, but how close are we to understanding how molecular differences cause ASD symptoms? Animal models and a systems approach can help close this gap in understanding and identify strategies to target outcomes rather than causes.

In this lecture, André Fenton will discuss work with mouse genetic models of FXS –the most common single-gene cause of ASD symptoms – and focus on the utility of such models to evaluate hypotheses for understanding ASD. He will evaluate distinct hypotheses by assessing synapse function and the action potential discharge of knowledge-expressing hippocampus “place cells” during behaviors that require varying cognitive effort. Despite abnormalities in synaptic function within the hippocampus, FXS-mimicking mutations do not disrupt the functioning of individual hippocampal neurons; rather those mutations lead to the discoordination of when those neurons interact. These observations offer novel explanations for inflexibilities in expression of knowledge, learning deficits and inflexible behavior and suggest novel therapeutic strategies that should be evaluated. Such therapeutic strategies are aimed at improving function without directly targeting the molecular foundations of FXS.

About the Speaker

André Fenton is a professor of neural science at New York University. His research focuses on molecular, neural, behavioral and computational aspects of memory. He studies how brains store experiences as memories and how the expression of knowledge activates information that is relevant without activating what is irrelevant. His lab recordings of electrical brain activity are elucidating the physiology of cognitive control and cognitive dysfunction in schizophrenia, intellectual disability and autism. In an effort to integrate investigations and understanding across levels of biological organization, the Fenton lab uses genetic, molecular, electrophysiological, imaging, behavioral, engineering and theoretical methods to investigate these fundamental and interrelated issues in neuroscience.

Fenton and colleagues identified PKMzeta as the first molecule that maintains the persistence of memories in the brain, a discovery recognized by Science Magazine as one of the 10 most important breakthroughs in all of science and technology published in 2006. Fenton founded Bio-Signal Group Corp., which developed and commercialized an FDA-approved portable, wireless and easy-to-use platform for obtaining medical quality electroencephalograms (EEGs) anywhere, anytime and for everyone. It is being used in innovative clinical applications including emergency medicine, sports, space exploration and underserved clinics in Africa. Fenton also co-hosts NOVA Wonderson PBS.

Past Lectures

Thinking differently about neurodevelopmental disorders and autism: Lumping vs. splitting

Evdokia Anagnostou, M.D.Assistant Director, Bloorview Research Institute
Child Neurologist and Senior Clinician Scientist, Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital
Associate Professor, Department of Pediatrics, University of Toronto

On September 26, 2018, Evdokia Anagnostou will discuss the challenge of rethinking classification systems and diagnostic labels for autism and related neurodevelopmental disorders in light of recent findings from research and clinical studies.

Autism genetics: Where have we been and where are we going?

Matthew State, M.D., Ph.D.Oberndorf Family Distinguished Professor and Chair, University of California, San Francisco

On April 10, 2018, Matthew State reviewed the progress that has been made in autism genetics over the past 10 years and the role that the Simons Simplex Collection (SSC) played in this (r)evolution. He also addressed the potential contribution of ongoing genomic studies including whole-genome sequencing as well as the challenges and opportunities of leveraging the genetic findings to identify pathophysiological mechanisms.

On the road to precision health: Brain-based biomarkers in autism spectrum disorder

Shafali Spurling Jeste, M.D.Associate Professor in Psychiatry, Neurology and Pediatrics, University of California, Los Angeles
Director, Developmental Neurophysiology Lab, Center for Autism Research and Treatment, University of California, Los Angeles

On 7 February 2018, Shafali Spurling Jeste provided a topical overview of the current state of research in autism biomarkers. She shared data from studies of autism biomarkers in three key areas: early risk prediction (studies of high-risk infants), heterogeneity within the autism spectrum and genetically defined subgroups within autism. Finally, she discussed the challenges around clinical trial design and development and considered how more objective measures of brain function can improve clinical trials.

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