Autism is a complex disorder, involving social difficulties, challenges in tackling unpredictable environments, and repetitive behaviors. It can be difficult for autistic people to cope with the world in part because these traits may be driven by difficulties in predicting how novel places and social partners will act, or driven by reduced motivation to seek out novel environments and social partners. These abilities are also essential to executive function, which is frequently impaired in ASD and other neurodevelopmental disorders.
Our lab has found that mice who were developed to express genetic variants associated with autism have difficulties with predicting the positive outcomes of their actions, and with maintaining motivation in the face of a challenge to reach a goal. Using a number of cognitive tasks, we seek to tease out the relationships between prediction, motivation, and goal-directed behavior in these mice. Further, by manipulating the function of specific neurons via optogenetic and chemogenetic approaches, we wish to define the circuits that are disrupted (and those that are intact) in these mice.
Image: Genotyping gels from the 16p11.2 hemideletion mouse line, generated by our collaborator Dr. Alea Mills at Cold Spring Harbor Labs