Optical measurement of circuit dynamics in autism models in virtual reality

  • Awarded: 2013
  • Award Type: Targeted: Circuit Dynamics
  • Award #: 294580

Numerous genetic pathways have been implicated in autism, and the effects on neural function of genetic variations in these pathways have been studied. However, it has been difficult to identify how these pathways converge to a common level of neural function. It remains unclear how similarities in autism across patients with different genetic variations occurs.

Christopher Harvey and his colleagues at Harvard Medical School plan to investigate how groups of neurons arranged into neuronal circuits function to control complex behaviors in mice. They aim to use microscopy methods to record movies of neural activity as mice perform behavioral tasks in virtual reality environments. Signatures of neural circuit function have been identified for behaviors related to those affected in autism.

Harvey and his colleagues hypothesize that variations in different genetic pathways may converge to have common effects on neural circuit function. They propose that neural circuits may be a key level of neural organization affected in autism. They plan to test this hypothesis in mouse models of autism using state-of-the-art microscopy tools.

They also plan to examine how communication between neural circuits in various brain regions is affected in the mouse models and how flexible changes in this communication may be disrupted. By comparing multiple models originating from variations in different genetic pathways, Harvey and his colleagues aim to identify common neural circuit effects.

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