The important role of genetics in autism development has become increasingly obvious. Many genes implicated in autism are so fundamental to basic neurobiology that species as diverse as worms and humans share them.
After discovering that natural variability in autism-related genes correlates with alterations in worm social behavior, Audrey Brumback, MD, PhD, pediatric neurologist and an assistant professor in the Department of Neurology, and Jon Pierce, PhD, in UT Austin’s College of Natural Sciences, hypothesized that these changes could provide a way to rapidly screen potential treatments for individuals with specific genetic causes of autism.
Leveraging C. elegans as a minimum animal model, Brumback and Pierce can screen thousands of FDA-approved drugs to quickly and inexpensively identify personalized treatment for autism based on a patient’s genetic profile. They were recently awarded a three-year, $500,000 R01 grant from the National Institute of Mental Health entitled “High-Throughput Interrogation of Autism Risk Genes: From Molecules to Behavior” to uncover the molecular mechanisms by which autism genes influence worm social behavior.
This new grant builds on another recent $1,500,000 grant from the National Institute of Mental Health for “Functional Architecture of the Mediodorsal Thalamus.” For this work, Brumback’s team will use mice to map the structure and function of a part of the thalamus that is thought to affect conditions such as autism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and schizophrenia. Read more about that grant here.
Congratulations, Dr. Brumback!