Human brain function is the result of a highly organized network of connections linking multiple areas across the brain. A popular theory to explain autism is that genetic variants interact with environmental factors and lead to impaired or dysfunctional communication between these unique brain areas. However, the genetic and neurobiological determinants of the connectivity impairments observed in autism are largely unknown.
Mapping brain connectivity in mouse lines bearing genetic alterations associated with autism can help researchers investigate these impairments. Last year, Alessandro Gozzi and his team at the lstituto Italiano di Tecnologia in Rovereto, Italy, developed functional magnetic resonance imaging methods to map brain connectivity networks in the living mouse brain. Their results show that the mouse brain presents large-scale, synchronized neuronal circuits analogous to those mapped with imaging in people1.
Gozzi and his team plan to apply these methods to map brain connectivity in mouse models bearing established autism-relevant genetic deficits. The study may permit researchers to assess whether genetic mutations associated with autism are sufficient to impair brain connectivity, shedding light on the pathological origin and significance of the connectivity alterations often observed in people with autism.