Research Department: Neuroscience
Graduation Date: May 2018
Abstract: Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is one of the most prevalent neurodevelopment disorders in the United States, with nearly 67 million individuals worldwide affected with the disorder. Core deficits of this disorder include impaired language and social skills, and restricted and/or repetitive behaviors. Although there is genetic heritability of the disease, many mutations may arise only in the affected individual and not in the parents; these mutations are known as de novo mutations. One of the most significantly recurring de novo mutations is found in the gene Forkhead box P1 (FOXP1), which encodes a transcription factor.
The majority of humans with FOXP1 mutations are diagnosed with ASD and display other comorbidities including intellectual disability, gross motor deficits, and hyperactivity. FOXP1 is expressed in specific brain regions, which include the CA1 region of the hippocampus, layers II-V of the cortex, and dopamine 1 (D1) and 2 (D2) expressing medium spiny neurons (MSNs) in the striatum. Literature has shown whole-brain deletion of Foxp1 results in changes in striatal morphology, electrophysiological differences in the hippocampus, and deficits in social behaviors.
Tell us about your journey.
Before applying to Green Fellows, I developed an interest in neuroscience after taking a Behavioral Neuroscience course. The areas that intrigued me the most were injuries and disorders relating to the brain. Since this field had a direct connection to my interests in biology, I decided to pursue a research laboratory that would integrate these concepts into a real life application. After discussing my interests with Dr. Robert Rennekar, I joined his research laboratory, which focused on electrical vagus nerve stimulation and physical rehabilitation to improve loss of motor function and coordination following a traumatic brain injury.