Lauren Orefice is an assistant professor in the Department of Molecular Biology at the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and the Department of Genetics at Harvard Medical School. She received her Ph.D. from Georgetown University and worked as a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard Medical School with David Ginty before joining MGH and Harvard as a faculty member in 2019.
In prior work, Orefice and her colleagues investigated the etiology of atypical tactile sensitivity in autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The team identified that peripheral sensory neurons, outside of the brain, are dysfunctional in mouse models for ASD and cause touch over-reactivity. Altered touch processing during development results in abnormal brain development as well as anxiety and social impairments in adult mice. This work revealed a novel locus of changes in ASD and how dysfunction in peripheral sensory neurons can link multiple ASD phenotypes, leading to the possibility of a novel therapeutic target.
The current goals of the Orefice laboratory include studying the development and function of somatosensory and viscerosensory circuits that encode information from the skin and gastrointestinal tract. A major focus of the lab is to understand the mechanisms through which somatosensory and viscerosensory circuits are disrupted in ASD and how changes in sensory processing contribute to ASD-related phenotypes. A range of approaches are being used to study somatosensation and viscerosensation, including genetics, anatomy, in vivo and in vitro electrophysiology, imaging, single-cell RNA sequencing and behavior in mice, as well as studies of human-derived neurons.