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social brain
A 3-D Diagram of a new microscopic technique which shows every brain cell within a mouse's brain. Image taken from video.

Science Shorts: The social brain and autism

Check out this SCIENCE SHORT—“The Social Brain and Autism”—in which postdoctoral researcher Yongsoo Kim, Ph.D., of Associate Professor Pavel Osten’s laboratory helps us understand more about how we are using mice to study behaviors associated with autism. Statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identify around 1 in 88 American children as on the autism spectrum—a ten-fold increase in reported cases over the last 40 years.

In the Osten lab, researchers focus on the analysis of brain regions and how brain cells connect and communicate with each other to drive behaviors. This communication between neurons may be disrupted in disorders like autism and schizophrenia. The lab uses the latest technologies to image entire mouse brains and to map brain-wide neuronal activation evoked by various behaviors, including social behavior. Dr. Kim and his CSHL colleagues try to identify the specific cell types in the brain regions involved, and test the role of different cell types and brain regions in mediating specific aspects of the behaviors. The goal is to identify targets for therapeutic development.

Congratulations to Yongsoo, recent winner of a coveted NARSAD Young Investigator Award, which he will use to pursue research on the hormone oxytocin in a mouse model of autism. Because oxytocin has been associated with certain behaviors including social recognition, bonding, anxiety and maternal behaviors, it is sometimes referred to as the “bonding hormone.” Yongsoo is looking at which brain regions respond to doses of intranasal oxytocin, and how administration of this hormone alters brain activity in response to social stimulation.

About SCIENCE SHORTS: Each short talk of approximately 5 minutes explores a topic or area of research at CSHL. They were designed for non-scientific audience and given by a CSHL Ph.D. student or postdoc. So far we have covered the question “Why haven’t we cured cancer yet?“; the beautiful imagery generated by the important scientific technique of florescence microscopy; and, how protein structures are determined using “molecular photography.”

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