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Synaptic and Behavioral Functions of Striatal Projection Neurons in Autism and Autism Spectrum Disorders

The grant supports complementary activities in the laboratories of Professor Guoping Feng and Professor Ann M. Graybiel at MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research and Professor Bernardo Sabatini at Harvard Medical School. It involves both a fellowship program and a research program.

The three-year fellowship program will enable the principal investigators to train and mentor one postdoctoral fellow in their respective laboratories to work on autism research. The primary goal of this postdoctoral training program is to provide postdoctoral fellows with intellectual challenges and a broad range of advanced research techniques that will shape their future as independent scientists and leaders in the field of autism research. The fellows will be given an opportunity to contribute to cutting edge research into understanding the neural mechanisms underlying autism spectrum disorders. During their fellowships, the postdoctoral fellows will have the opportunity to use genetic, biochemical, electrophysiological and behavioral approaches to dissect molecular, synaptic, and circuitry mechanisms of ASDs using animal models.

Professors Feng and Graybiel will embark on a concentrated research effort aimed at understanding how the synaptic and behavioral functions of the striatum are critical to autism and autism spectrum disorders (ASD). The focus of their research will be the medium spiny neurons of the striatum (known in the field as MSNs), because these neurons and the circuits in which they are embedded are now suspected to be key brain components affected in autism and ASD. Professor Bernardo Sabatini’s laboratory will focus on developmental and dynamical control of striatal circuitry by dopaminergic inputs.