Single-unit recording from the amygdala in people with autism

  • Awarded: 2011
  • Award Type: Explorer
  • Award #: 217690

This was a one-year project designed to obtain initial electrophysiological data from individuals with autism undergoing neurosurgery. The goal of the study was twofold: to obtain single-neuron recordings from the brains of these individuals (a rare opportunity) and to establish a consortium of hospitals with collaborating neurosurgeons.

Ralph Adolphs and his colleagues at the California Institute of Technology were able to record data from two individuals with autism, and then compare the results with data from controls. The initial findings show that neurons in the amygdala that normally respond to the eyes during face perception fail to do so in people with autism.

Four hospitals have agreed to collaborate with the Adolphs lab, and this project is continuing under a pilot research grant from the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative. This is the first research study to record directly from the brains of people with autism, and it promises to yield novel data at the level of single neurons that may enhance our understanding of abnormal social cognition in autism spectrum disorders.

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