Behavioral deficits observed in autism can be grouped into four clusters: physiological and neurological health; arousal, anxiety, and regulatory systems; social interaction and communication; and behavioral inflexibility and cognition. Ted Abel and his colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania are planning to characterize the phenotypes of three mouse lines engineered to model autism: mice lacking CNTNAP2 or SHANK3B and mice with a deletion of the 16p11.2 region. The researchers plan to create the strains on a C57BL6 genetic background. They also plan to analyze the 16p11.2 mice in a B6/129 F1 background, which will allow them to control for other genetic variants that might interact with genes in this region.
Previous efforts to characterize these mice were limited by the use of low-resolution video or imprecise motion detection systems and by the need to perform labor-intensive manual scoring of the data. Abel’s team has developed an automated, high-resolution video analysis software system that should enable the researchers to complete this project in a reasonable amount of time while providing a greater degree of objectivity in the scoring of large amounts of behavioral data.
Abel’s laboratory plans to collect data on sleep/wake states, responses to novel objects and social interactions. Because the onset of puberty brings dramatic behavioral changes, the researchers also plan to examine behavior before, during and after puberty. This work could help clarify which traits of autism are linked to specific genes and provide new high-throughput approaches to behavioral phenotyping of mouse models of neurodevelopmental disorders.