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 and two international nodes:
Director: Matthew P. Frosch, M.D., Ph.D.
Co-Director and Network Neuropathologist: Derek H. Oakley, 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.
Douglas-Bell Canada Brain Bank
Douglas Mental Health University Institute (McGill University affiliate)
Director: Naguib Mechawar, Ph.D.
Oxford Brain Bank
Oxford University, Oxford, United Kingdom
Director: Olaf Ansorge, M.D.
Autism BrainNet also includes a non-collecting node, dedicated to maintaining the Autism BrainNet Celloidin Library (see details below).
Director: Patrick Hof, M.D.
To date, the Autism BrainNet collection has currently received 286 brain donations. These include:
- 92 brains from individuals with a confirmed diagnosis of ASD
- 32 brains from individuals whose diagnosis of ASD is still being reviewed by the Autism BrainNet clinical team
- 13 brains from individuals whose diagnosis of ASD could not be confirmed
- 29 brains from individuals without a diagnosis of ASD but with a genetic diagnosis included in the SPARK Gene list that confers a high risk of autism
- 116 brains from individuals with no known psychiatric or neurological conditions
- 4 brains from individuals with epilepsy without an autism 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.
Specimens in the Autism BrainNet collection can be browsed through the Tissue Catalogue (additional information about the specimens is available to approved researchers through SFARI Base).
Tissue genetic characterization
Autism BrainNet has partnered with the New York Genome Center to genetically characterize the brains donated by individuals with autism and related neurodevelopmental conditions, using whole exome sequencing, whole genome sequencing and genotyping. Data from 87 brains from donors with autism and related neurodevelopmental conditions are currently available to interested researchers and can be requested through SFARI Base. Moving forward, Autism BrainNet will continue to genetically characterize tissue from all donors with autism and related neurodevelopmental conditions. New data releases are expected on a quarterly basis.
Autism Celloidin Library
Autism BrainNet also supports the Autism Celloidin Library, a collection of 28 fixed brains from 14 donors with ASD and 14 neurotypical individuals. These brains have been cut into serial 200-μm-thick sections; sections have been mounted on histological slides and stained with cresyl violet. All slides are currently being digitized to create a permanent digital record of the collection. The digitized images will be anatomically annotated and made available for research purposes via SFARI Base.
Interested researchers can apply to request Autism BrainNet tissue and related phenotypic and genomic data though SFARI Base.
Researchers from around the world who study autism and related neurodevelopmental conditions are eligible to request Autism BrainNet brain tissue. Interested researchers can submit tissue request applications through SFARI Base.
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.
Page updated 06/29/2022
- 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