An ode to rats as animal models for autism

This week, the lab of Dr. Jill Silverman at UC Davis published a study that showed the most similar types of social communication deficits in an animal model.  Her group, led by Elizabeth Berg, used a rat model, rather than a mouse, because rats exhibit both receptive and expressive communication.  Through a collaboration within the UC Davis MIND Institute and Mount Sinai School of Medicine, she tested an animal model of autism that shows a lack of expression of SHANK3.  SHANK3 mutations are seen in those with Phelan-McDermid Syndrome as well as in 1% of people with autism.  This new study opens up new ways to understand autism symptoms in an animal model, and moves autism research using animals forward significantly.   The references mentioned in the podcast are:

The causes of social communication deficits in ASD

This week, former ASF fellow Katherine Stavropoulos from UC Riverside and Leslie Carver published data investigating what is the core cause of social communication deficits in autism.  Do people with autism show deficits in this area because they have a lack of motivation for social cues, or are social interactions just too overwhelming on their senses?  It turns out, both are true and this has direct implications for intervention methods.  Also, parents and siblings of people with autism show subtle symptoms of ASD without having a diagnosis.  This is called the broader autism phenotype, and a study by the Study to Explore Early Development led by Dr. Eric Rubenstein, demonstrated that parents of children with a particular group of symptoms are more likely to show this phenotype than other groupings.  You can read the full studies here:


What is the can do vs. the will do of autism?

Often overlooked in intervention studies, it is becoming increasingly clearer that adaptive behavior, the “will do” vs. the “can do” of functioning, should receive more focus.  In people with autism and high IQ, cognitive ability, the “can do” is higher than adaptive behavior, the “will do”.  Why?  The key in new research from the National Institutes of Health may be social abilities.  Another study this week from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in adult  with high IQ demonstrates that social motivation may be the key to improving social skills and socialization in people with ASD.