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Altered Inhibitory Microcircuits in Autism (funded through NAAR)

These researchers believe that most of the deleterious neurological symptoms of autism, which can include distortions in perception, attention, memory, cognition, language, communication and social behavior, could come from a malfunction in the microcircuits of the neocortex. When the neocortex is excited by sensory stimulation or during higher cognitive processing, the excitation engages inhibitory mechanisms that command the sequence, spread and form of the evolution of electrical activity patterns. The operations of inhibitory microcircuits are central to normal perception, attention and memory that form the foundation for higher cognitive functions. With impaired inhibitory mechanisms, information processing at multiple levels will be profoundly affected. The researchers believe that altered inhibitory microcircuits could be the common denominator in autism spectrum disorders. Alterations in perception, attention and memory processes to different degrees, in different forms and in different regions of the neocortex could give rise to many autistic-like syndromes. They explore principles of recruiting and applying inhibition in the neocortex, their alterations in animal models of autism and plasticity of these inhibitory microcircuits. The hope was that the results of this project could indicate new directions for retraining inhibitory microcircuits to reinstate normal cognitive functions.