"Synapses are the cellular specializations responsible for transducing information between neurons. Synaptic dysfunction is thought to underlie disorders such as schizophrenia, autism and mental retardation. Currently, a major challenge for modern neuroscience is to understand how synaptic computations give rise to behavioural and cognitive programs and identify how these same circuits are affected in neuropsychiatric disorders.
At present, a multitude of factors both genetic and environmental are recognized to impact on the etiology of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) and schizophrenia. Nevertheless, and while these disorders diverge on several factors such as, typical age of onset, language skills and other clinical presentations; convergence is observed in several behavioral phenotypes and in genetic mutations common to both disorders. Indeed, a prominent feature in the symptomatology of both conditions is a dysfunction in social behaviors. However, the synaptic circuits and pathways that regulate the expression of affiliative social behaviors remain largely unknown.
To begin shedding light on these complex behaviors and neural circuits, we are dissecting the cellular and synaptic maps of ethologically relevant affiliative social behaviors using a multidisciplinary approach combining genetic and optogenetic tools. We are also modulating neuronal synaptic circuits in genetic and behavioral mouse models of autism and schizophrenia. Our strategy will unravel the primitive brain centers controlling social behavior in mammals and address how disruption in sociability may lead to common dysfunctions that may be transversal to several human disorders."
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