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Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC)
Autism Research Database
Office of Autism Research Coordination (OARC)
 
Project Element Element Description

Project Title

Project Title

Single-unit recordings from the amygdala in people with autism

Principal Investigator

Principal Investigator

Adolphs, Ralph

Description

Description

We tend to spontaneously focus on the eyes and mouth when we scan a face: a smile reveals happiness, whereas a furrowed brow might indicate anger. Some people with autism cannot easily understand these facial expressions, however. Ralph Adolphs and his colleagues at the California Institute of Technology study how people with autism interpret and respond to cues from human faces. Two regions of the brain that have roles in interpreting facial expressions - the amygdala and the corpus callosum - are frequently dysfunctional in autism. The amygdala integrates sensory inputs with memories to evaluate the meaning of a facial expression. The corpus callosum contains the connections of many neurons between one side of the brain and the other, which are necessary for complex neurological processes. In a recent project for SFARI, Adolphs and his colleagues compared people with autism with those who have lesions in the amygdala or the corpus callosum. The researchers found several similarities between the two groups: they all have impairments in social functioning and difficulty recognizing emotions from faces, and make abnormal eye fixations onto faces. The researchers anticipate heterogeneity in the involvement of these two brain structures in people with autism. For example, some might have poor connectivity in the corpus callosum, whereas others could have abnormal activity in the amygdala, and some might have neither. These differences could help researchers identify and understand subtypes of autism spectrum disorders. In a unique and exciting extension of these studies, Adolphs and his colleagues propose to record electrical signals directly from amygdala cells in rare neurosurgical patients who have electrodes implanted in their brain for monitoring epilepsy, which is frequently seen in people with autism. The researchers have recorded neuronal activity from the amygdala in two people with autism and epilepsy, as well as in several people who have epilepsy but not autism. Comparisons of how amygdala neurons respond to face stimuli in people with autism may provide finely detailed information about how the amygdala contributes to social functioning, and how abnormal responses within it contribute to autism.

Funder

Funder

Simons Foundation

Fiscal Year Funding

Fiscal Year Funding

0

Current Award Period

Current Award Period

2011-2012

Strategic Plan Question

Strategic Plan Question

Question 2: How Can I Understand What Is Happening?

Strategic Plan Objective

Strategic Plan Objective

Green dot: Objective has greater than or equal to the recommended funding. 2SE. Launch three studies that target the underlying biological mechanisms of co-occurring conditions with autism, including seizures/epilepsy, sleep disorders, wandering/elopement behavior, and familial autoimmune disorders, by 2012. IACC Recommended Budget: $9,000,000 over 5 years.

Project Link

Project Link

Single-unit recordings from the amygdala in people with autism (External web link)

Institution

Institution

California Institute of Technology

State/Country

State/Country

California

Project Number

Project Number

217690

Federal or Private?

Federal or Private?

Private

Received ARRA Funding?

Received ARRA Funding?

No

History/Related Projects

History/Related Projects

Single-unit recordings from the amygdala in people with autism | 54000 | 2011 | 217690

 
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