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From genes to brain to behavior: A multidisciplinary investigation of the autistic triad

United Kingdom

Most research on autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) has assumed that the three core behaviors that represent ASDs—social impairments, communication, and restricted/repetitive behaviors – the “triad” are interrelated. However, it is possible that these three domains may be very different and caused by different mechanisms. This implies that different features of autism may be caused by different genes, associated with different brain regions and related to different core cognitive impairments. Dr. Happe and her colleagues, therefore propose that research is likely to learn more about ASDs by examining each of these behaviors separately. Dr. Angelica Ronald, the post-doctoral fellow, will conduct new analyses to examine individual differences in affected and non-affected people in three domains of cognitive processing. She will also identify genetic markers and environmental factors which are associated with each core behavior. This will help better identify the causes for each symptom of autism, and determine if they can be separated from one another. Data and resources from the Twins Early Development Study, will be used to expedite findings. The post-doctoral fellow is well qualified for this project, having already published several papers on autism research and recently received the 2006 Young Investigator Award by the International Society for Autism Research. What this means for people with autism: This research will take a novel approach to studying the gene-brain-behavior pathways in ASDs by examining the three core behavioral traits of ASD separately. If the theory holds up and different features of autism are caused by different genes, associated with different brain regions, and related to different core cognitive impairments, the findings from this study may lead to tailored interventions designed to address specific characteristics of each behavioral trait.