Autism BrainNet, launched in May 2014, is a collaborative network of academic sites that collects, stores and distributes brain tissue for autism research. This resource is intended to support the highest-quality and most rigorous research into the underlying genetic and neuropathological mechanisms that contribute to autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and related neurodevelopmental conditions.
The Simons Foundation and Autism Speaks cofounded Autism BrainNet, creating Foundation Associates, LLC, in 2013, whose only initiative was to support Autism BrainNet. In 2016, SFARI became the sole funder of Autism BrainNet; in 2020, Autism BrainNet officially became a program of SFARI.
David Amaral, a neuroanatomist and research director of the University of California, Davis MIND Institute, is the scientific director of Autism BrainNet. He is responsible for the development of standard operating procedures for all sites, establishing collaborations with patient advocacy and research organizations and other national and international brain banks, and participating in the outreach campaign.
In 2015, Autism BrainNet established a private-public partnership with the NIH NeuroBioBank to develop a unified approach for brain banking for autism spectrum disorders. Many valuable partnerships have also been established with family foundations and research organizations.
Tissue collection and storage is carried out at three regional nodes across the United States:
New England Brain Bank for Autism Research (NEBBAR)
Director: Matthew Anderson, M.D., Ph.D.
University of California Davis MIND Institute
Brain Endowment for Autism Research Sciences (BEARS)
Director: Cynthia Schumann, Ph.D.
UT Southwestern Medical Center
Brain Endowment for Autism and Developmental Disabilities (BEADD)
Director: Carol Tamminga, M.D.
Autism BrainNet also has two international partnerships:
Oxford University, Oxford, United Kingdom
Director: Olaf Ansorge, M.D.
Douglas-Bell Canada Brain Bank
Douglas Mental Health University Institute, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Director: Naguib Mechawar, Ph.D.
To date, the Autism BrainNet collection has received 276 brain donations. These include 118 brains from individuals with a confirmed (88) or suspected (30) diagnosis of ASD, 13 brains from individuals whose diagnosis of ASD could not be confirmed, 28 brains from individuals without a diagnosis of autism but with a genetic diagnosis included in the SPARK gene list that confers a high risk of autism, 113 brains from individuals with no known psychiatric or neurological conditions, and 4 brains from individuals with epilepsy without ASD diagnosis.
The tissue and the data previously collected by the Autism Tissue Program (ATP) — a program of Autism Speaks — have been incorporated into the Autism BrainNet collection and distributed by Autism BrainNet since 2016.
Researchers from around the world who study autism and related neurodevelopmental conditions are eligible to apply to use Autism BrainNet brain tissue. Interested researchers can submit tissue request applications through SFARI Base, SFARI’s clearinghouse for autism and autism-related research data and biospecimens.
Specimens in the Autism BrainNet collection can be browsed through the Tissue Catalogue (additional information about the specimens is available to approved researchers).
More details on the Autism BrainNet tissue application process and prerequisites for applications can be found here. For questions about the tissue request process, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For additional information about Autism BrainNet, please email info@AutismBrainNet.org.
For immediate help with donations, call 1-877-333-0999. Support is available 24/7.
- Autism BrainNet tissue catalogue
- Read about Autism BrainNet in a Handbook of Clinical Neurology chapterwritten by David Amaral and colleagues
- Watch the SPARK webinar by David Amaral and Cindy Schumann: Why is studying the brain important for understanding autism?
- Watch the Autism BrainNet webinar by Christopher Walsh: Mosaic mutations – present in some brain cells but not all brain cells – and their relevance to autism
- Read Spectrum’s news story: Banking on brains for clues to autism
- CBS News video on Autism BrainNet
- CNN profile on Autism BrainNet