The role of GABRA4 in the pathophysiology of autism.
University of North Carolina
Using a multidisciplinary approach, Dr. Belger will examine the role of the GABA receptor type A4 in autism – specific behaviors such as social interaction and social cognition. First, an animal model will be utilized to determine the role of the GABA A4 receptor expression on amygdala development and social behaviors. In a parallel set of experiments, functional MRI will be utilized to observe the activity of the amygdale and hippocampus during visual stimuli which includes facial recognition and processing. The overall goal is to determine the effect of altered GABRA4 function on limbic system functioning during social/affective processing and whether this mimics deficits observed in autism. It is hypothesized that lack of GABRA4 receptor expression will result in changes in amygdala volume and social processing deficits, similar to autism. What this means for people with autism: The primary aim of this proposal is to train the fellow as a translational neuroscientist who can integrate human cognitive neuroscience methodology with animal research to investigate the complex neurobiological underpinnings of autism. If it is found that the GABRA4 knockout mouse is a good animal model for autism, the effectiveness of benzodiazepine therapy in alleviating social deficits can be studied.