The “Route” of Autism – New Brain Map Reveals Neural Processes

Scientists have always taken advanced measures to get into your head but now, they’ve found a way to give themselves and others directions along the way. USC scientists are creating a map of uncharted territory in a mouse brain to see the roadblocks that cause Huntington’s disease and autism.

The scientists focused on the “cell highways” of the dorsal striatum, the center for motor learning, and located the main hubs that coordinate complex limb movements, as Parkinson’s disease, obsessive compulsive disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder all involve this brain region. Hong-Wei Dong, an associate professor of neurology at USC, believes that by beginning his brain mapping in an area known for circuit disruption with diseases, he can get a better idea of how to predict problem areas within this particular portion of the brain and hone in even further to figure out how to understand this phenomenon. Lead author and assistant professor of research, Houri Hiniryan, also stated, “If you have one big structure, it’s very difficult to know which part is the problem area.”

The mouse brain has always been the foundation of human brain research as the structure is so similar and the biggest differences between both concern the level of high-cognition. By understanding the mouse brain at great detail, scientists believe they will make great strides in new drugs and medical therapies.

Perhaps more important for autism, their research has now made the most detailed and complex map of the connection between the cerebral cortex and the dorsal striatum, which processes motor learning and attention. Because of this research, any circuit disruptions will become evident and researchers will be able to see the effects drugs make on specific disruptions and will know where to place stem cells.

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