Role of a Cell Adhesion Molecule in Cortical Minicolumns
Neuropathological research in autism spectrum disorders has identified a disruption of the organization of neurons in the cortex. This is evidence by small, tightly packed neurons which are abnormally close to one another. They form patters called “minicolumns” which are named this since the cells form a vertical column bundled together. Cortical minicolumns appear to be important for neural processing, integrating sensory signals and generally coordinating signals in the brain's cortex—all functions that could be related back to symptoms of autism. Dr. Rakic will be investigating possible pharmacological manipulation of cortical development. On the other hand, Dr. Sestan and his research team will study the role of e-cadherin, a cell adhesion molecule, which may be important to the formation of cortical minicolumns. Using a mouse model which lacks e-cadherin, this group will examine whether these mice show anatomical, functional, and behavioral symptoms relevant to autism spectrum disorders. Finally, together with the department of neurogenetics, mutations of the e-cadherin gene will be examined in families with autism. What this means for people with autism: This is an interdisciplinary project which will help better explain the neuropathological features of autism. This research lead to a better understanding of a potential role of synaptic adhesion molecule expression on neuroanatomical and neuropathological findings which will better explain the causes of autism spectrum disorders.