New technologies for efficiently manipulating genomes have expanded autism research to mammalian models beyond the mouse. Rats provide an exciting model species for several reasons. For example, rats are highly social, cooperative animals which, unlike the mouse, live in large social colonies, making them an excellent model species for many of the social characteristics of autism. Furthermore, rats have large litters and protracted development, allowing statistically robust studies in a relatively short period of time compared to primates.
This award will help support the comprehensive behavioral phenotyping of eight SFARI rat models to study autism spectrum disorder. This award will help to achieve the following goals:
1) Gain an in-depth overview of the behavioral repertoire of rats carrying autism-causing genetic alterations that will lead to a detailed understanding of the neurological changes that lead to the expression of autism.
2) Provide a robust set of behavioral phenotypes of autism models for testing rational therapeutic interventions.
3) Provide the autism research community with a precise baseline characterization of behavioral phenotypes that would encourage scientific engagement with these models.