Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects approximately 1% of the U.S. population. The causes of autism spectrum disorders are under intense investigation, with strong evidence for genetic substrates. Lifetime costs of caring for autistic individuals are high, both in terms of a) quality of life for the affected individuals and their families;b) financial expenses to the families, educational systems, and health care agencies. Discovery of multiple gene mutations, copy number variants, and epigenetic factors in people with autism has spurred the development of mouse models with homologous mutations. Genetic manipulations in mice offer an optimized experimental strategy to understand the consequences of candidate gene mutations. Effective treatments for the core symptoms of autism are currently limited to early behavioral interventions. Discovery of effective pharmacological treatments requires a greater understanding of the risk genes, biological mechanisms, and environmental factors that contribute to the etiology of autism. Animal models with robust phenotypes relevant to the diagnostic symptoms of autism offer an optimized experimental strategy to test the efficacy and safety of proposed treatments. Our Laboratory of Behavioral Neuroscience (LBN) is an international leader in behavioral assays for transgenic and knockout mice with mutations in genes expressed in brain pathways involved in neuropsychiatric disorders. We collaborate with a large number of molecular genetics laboratories that contribute mutant lines of mice with mutations in risk genes for autism to our research program. For FY12 we concentrated on winding down the activities of the laboratory in preparation for the departure of its PI to a new position at another academic institution.

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U.S. National Institute of Mental Health
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