An impediment along the path toward translational research in autism has been the lack of strong, objective phenotypic measures of autistic behavior. Caroline Robertson’s laboratory recently developed a robust and replicated behavioral marker of autism in visual perception — reduced perceptual suppression during binocular rivalry1 — which links to the reduced action of the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA in the autistic brain2.
Robertson’s current work aims to develop this visual perception marker as a tool to facilitate animal and genetic research, pharmacological interventions, as well as to shed light on the neurobiology of autism. Specifically, Robertson’s team aims to develop an electroencephalography (EEG) measure that correlates with reduced perceptual suppression during binocular rivalry and which can be used to index drug response in nonverbal individuals with autism, as well as in animal models of autism.
To test the generalizability of the theory that a disruption in the balance of excitatory/inhibitory neurotransmission may be a central characteristic of the neurobiology of autism, Robertson’s group will also perform an in-depth analysis of the balance of GABA/glutamate concentrations in the autistic brain using magnetic resonance spectroscopy.