Friday, September 16, 2011

Mammalian Species that Forage Solitarily Constitute An Animal Model for Autism

I was invited to submit an abstract to the Cell Symposium on autism coming up in November. The quote that follows was accepted as an abstract. In the poster I will try to identify some of the behavioral states that are shared between individuals with autism and known solitary foragers and explain why the close examination of the neural underpinnings of these states will be important for autism research.

"Solitary mammalian species are known to have specialized, neurological adaptations that prepare them to focus working memory on food procurement and survival rather than on social interaction. Both solitary mammals and autistic individuals are low on measures of affiliative need, bodily expressiveness, direct and shared gazing, emotional engagement, empathy, facial recognition, gregariousness, joint attention, pretend play, and socialization. Individuals with autism also exhibit certain biological markers that are characteristic of solitarily foragers including: early cortical myelination, enhanced amygdalar activation to social events, decreased activation of the fusiform face area, low oxytocin levels, and irregular activity in social brain circuits. The extent of these similarities suggests that solitary mammals may offer a useful model of autistic endophenotypes and an opportunity for investigating genetic and epigenetic, etiological factors. If the brain in autism can be shown to exhibit distinct homologous or homoplastic similarities to the brains of solitary animals, it will reveal that these changes are central to the phenotype and should be targeted for investigation. Research into the neurological, cellular and molecular basis of these specializations may provide insight for behavioral analysis, communication intervention, gene-environment interactions and psychopharmacology for autism."