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Spectrum: Autism Research News

Video: The next decade in autism research

by  /  18 November 2010

This article is more than five years old. Autism research — and science in general — is constantly evolving, so older articles may contain information or theories that have been reevaluated since their original publication date.

There are scores of studies measuring gene expression in the brain. The trouble is, most of them measure expression in pieces of brain tissue, which can include many different types of cells, each with a different biological role.

Nathaniel Heintz, professor of molecular biology at Rockefeller University, has developed a technique that creates a genetic profile of specific cell types in the brain. Called ‘translating ribosome affinity purification,’ or TRAP, the method captures RNA from specific types of cells as it is being translated into protein.

In a keynote lecture on Tuesday at the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting in San Diego, Heintz predicted that over the next ten years, scientists will piece together detailed molecular signatures of each of the hundreds of cell types in the mouse brain.

After the talk, Heintz sat down with SFARI on a sunny patio to discuss what this decade of advancements might mean for autism research. In his own lab, for instance, Heintz is using TRAP to map gene expression in different cell types in mice with mutations in SHANK3, a gene that has been linked to autism.

For more reports from the 2010 Society for Neuroscience annual meeting, please click here.