Towards a primate model of autism: Functional MRI studies on social cognition in behaving macaques
Recent neuroimaging studies in individuals with ASD have shown reduced activity in areas of social cognition networks suggesting a possible neural substrate for these social impairments. However, questions regarding the activity of these different brain areas and their functional interaction have yet to be answered. Primates exhibit social complex behavior like humans, and studying their social cognitive deficits could help us gain a better understanding of the pathology of autism. Dr. Kastner's lab will take the first necessary steps towards establishing a primate model in autism by identifying brain networks that mediate functions in social cognition using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in awake, behaving monkeys. Primate fMRI is a new cutting-edge technique that allows for the first time for a direct comparison of brain function in humans and monkeys. The goal of these experiments is to determine the cellular mechanisms underlying social cognition in different nodes of the network using single cell physiology, and also to identify the functionally critical nodes of the network, the dysfunction of which leads to impairments of social functions to gain a better understanding of the underlying cause of social interaction deficits in individuals with ASD. Significance: A primate model that exhibits complex social behavior like humans would greatly help us attain a deeper understanding of the pathobiology of autism, since it would allow a more direct study of the causal relationships of the different brain regions involved in social cognition. Following the identification of brain networks in the macaque that mediate functions in social cognition have been identified, these areas could be targeted for future invasive analysis.