Speaker: Joshua Kaplan, Ph.D.
Affiliation: Professor of Neurobiology, MGH/Harvard Medical School
Date: February 21, 2018
Talk title: From compost to the clinic: using C. elegans to study psychiatric disorders
Abstract: Recent human genetic studies suggest that mutations in ~500 genes are linked to autism spectrum disorder. Although many of these genes encode proteins that are localized at synapses, relatively little is known about how these mutations alter brain function or development. An important goal for the field is to identify specific cellular defects caused by mutations linked to Autism and to determine how (and if) these defects contribute to the cognitive and developmental deficits found in Autism. My lab uses a simple model organism (Caenorhabditis elegans) as a genetic platform to investigate the impact of Autism-linked genes on brain development and function. C. elegans is a small worm (1 mm long as an adult) that lives in rotting organic matter (like compost heaps).
Our studies suggest that mutations linked to Autism in humans alter retrograde synaptic signals, the strength of inhibitory synapses, and activity-induced gene expression in worms. We propose that these cellular defects play an important role in the pathophysiology of Autism.