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 formed Foundation Associates, L.L.C. in 2013, whose only initiative is Autism BrainNet. In 2016, SFARI became the sole funder of Autism BrainNet. David Amaral, a neuroanatomist and research director of the University of California, Davis MIND Institute, has been appointed director of Autism BrainNet. Amaral 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. Importantly, in November 2015, Autism BrainNet and the NIH NeuroBioBank announced a private-public partnership to develop a unified approach for brain banking for autism spectrum disorders.
Tissue collection and storage is carried out at four regional nodes across the United States: Sacramento (University of California, Davis), Dallas (University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center), Boston (Harvard Beth Israel Hospital) and New York City (Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai). In 2016, a node in the United Kingdom was added (the Oxford Brain Bank at Oxford University).
To date, the Autism BrainNet collection has received 146 brain donations. These include 55 brains from individuals with a confirmed or suspected diagnosis of ASD, 17 brains from individuals with conditions related to ASD, such as epilepsy or other neurodevelopmental disorders, and 74 brains from individuals with no known psychiatric or neurological conditions.
The tissue and the data in the Autism Tissue Program (ATP) — an initiative created by Autism Speaks — have been incorporated into Autism BrainNet and are managed by Autism BrainNet. Autism BrainNet began distributing postmortem brain tissue previously collected by the ATP in July 2016. Distribution of the newly acquired tissue collected under the auspices of Autism BrainNet began in early 2019. More information about the tissue distribution and application process is available here.
The continuing success of Autism BrainNet will also depend on an outreach campaign that conveys the importance of postmortem brain donations for autism research. Autism BrainNet has partnered with the Autism Science Foundation to create the “It Takes Brains” outreach campaign. Individuals can learn more about Autism BrainNet by registering at TakesBrains.org. Scientists and clinicians involved in research on autism and related disorders are encouraged to help spread the word about the need for postmortem brain donations.
For additional information, please email info@AutismBrainNet.org.
Hotline for donations (available 24/7): 1-877-333-0999.
- Autism BrainNet tissue catalogue
- Application form for tissue requests
- Read about Autism BrainNet in a Handbook of Clinical Neurology chapter written by David Amaral and colleagues
- 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