Optical analysis of circuit-level sensory processing in the cerebellum
Autism spectrum disorders are associated with abnormalities in the cerebellum. Cerebellum function is involved in movement coordination and sensory processing, both of which are dysfunctional in autism. One idea is that abnormalities in the cerebellum in autism affect coordination in both the motor domain and cognitive domain, producing uncoordinated movements and thoughts. Dr. Wang hypothesizes that proper coordination may require the ability to make predictions based on incoming stimuli, but how the cerebellum would do this is unclear. This research project aims to elucidate basic cerebellum function in mice, and ultimately its role in coordination. Spontaneous and sensory-evoked activity in populations of cerebellar neurons in anesthetized and alert mice will be recorded using an optical technique that detects neural activity with excellent spatial and temporal resolution. This research will clarify how the basic repeating circuit within the cerebellum processes sensory stimuli, and may be relevant to understanding how predictions based on incoming stimuli are stored and represented in the brains of normal and autistic people. What this means for people with autism: It has been suspected that the cerebellum is involved in autism, but the cerebellum-related dysfunctions have yet to be uncovered. This project may allow us to understand the basic reason for why individuals with autism appear uncoordinated, leading to more targeted and earlier interventions.