Autism Researchers Gather to Share Ideas at Society for Neuroscience Meeting

12/01/05

The 2005 Society of Neuroscience meeting was held on November 12-16th at the Washington DC Convention Center, attended by over 34,000 scientists, exhibitors, and members of the press. NAAR and the Autism Tissue

Program were proud to participate as exhibitors at this well-attended meeting, where researchers and students stopped to discuss NAAR, the ATP and the ATP data portal, read about recent advances in autism research and learn more about funding opportunities. Two sessions were specifically dedicated to autism research: “Autism: Animal Models and Clinical Studies” and “Autism and MeCP2”. Autism researchers, including many funded by NAAR, presented in both these, as well as other sessions, to exchange ideas and learn more about the progress in autism research over the past year.

As part of this meeting, on November 11th, the Society of Neuroscience hosted a Neurobiology of Disease Workshop entitled “Developmental Neurobiology of Autism Spectrum Disorders: Clinical Phenotypes, Neurobiologic Abnormalities & Animal Models”. The meeting was organized by Emanuel DiCicco-Bloom, MD, member of NAAR's Scientific Advisory Board. During the morning session, over 250 attendees learned about the autism phenotype from Drs. Catherine Lord and Lonnie Zwaigenbaum, followed by a thorough discussion of the neurobiology of autism. Drs. Eric Courchesne, Stephen Dager, Christoph Schmitz and Robert Schultz spoke on morphological, metabolic and growth abnormalities, neuropathology and neural networks in autism and social recognition. Following a lunch break, Drs. DiCicco-Bloom, Jacqueline Crawley and Larry Young each presented on the challenges of designing animal models for autism, and described unique and innovative strategies for assessing behavioral deficits and gene functions in several animal systems.

After hearing presentations which provided a solid background on each area of study, the second part of the afternoon allowed students, post-doctoral fellows and junior faculty who attended the workshop to interact with these presenters in a more informal fashion. Such small focus groups fostered a discussion on primate and rodent models of autism, functional and structural imaging, genetic and environmental factors, immune disregulation, neurophysiologic abnormalities and behavioral and pharmacological therapy. Dr. DiCicco-Bloom remarked “The students and faculty who attended the small group sessions posed insightful questions and brought us to the boundaries of what we know and where the research needs to be in the future. Importantly, the participating expert faculty also realized a benefit that serves autism progress, by establishing collaborations across their diverse specialized disciplines from human studies to animal experimentation”.

On Saturday, November 12th, the Autism Tissue Program's Tissue Advisory Board met to review recent requests for tissue collected and distributed by the ATP. The tissue advisory board meets bi-annually to discuss the best use of this precious resource by critically evaluating proposals submitted by researchers. After rigorously discussing the merits of each proposal, five outstanding projects will receive precious brain tissue to closely analyze molecular and cellular changes in those affected with autism.

These projects include:

  • “Parallel analysis of gene expression and gene copy number in brains of autistic patients” led by Antonio Persico, MD at Campus Bio-Medico in Rome
  • “Examining alterations in cortical neuronal subpopulations and synaptic proteins in autism” conducted by Payam Rezaie at the Open University in collaboration with Christoph Schmitz at University of Maastricht in the Netherlands
  • “Comprehensive analysis of regional microstructural differences in autism” led by Eric Courchesne, PhD at the University of California in San Diego
  • “Activation of the PI3K/AKT pathway in human autism” under the direction of C.H. Kwon, PhD at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas
  • “MeCP2 mutations on DLX5 in Rett and Autism”, at the Lawrence Berkley Laboratory in CA, led by Dr. Terumi Kohwi-Shigematsu, Ph.D.

These studies would not be possible without the generosity of donor families. NAAR and the Autism Tissue Program would like to recognize and thank these families for their precious gift which will advance knowledge on cellular and molecular changes in autism, leading to knowledge about the causes and treatments. More information about the ATP and the projects that receive tissue for research can be found at
http://www.memoriesofhope.org