The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) has awarded $1.97 million for innovative autism research to Bruce Trapp, Ph.D., Chairman of Neurosciences at Cleveland Clinic's Lerner Research Institute. The grant supports a promising new avenue for understanding the development of autism spectrum disorder with Trapp's research of astrocytes, the most abundant human brain cell.
Autism spectrum disorders are behavioral disorders highlighted by social and communicative dysfunction, including repetitive behavior. These characteristics are caused by altered synaptic function in select brain regions. Previously assumed to affect only neurons, new evidence suggests that another central nervous system cell, the astrocyte, can shed light on the behavioral abnormalities associated with autism spectrum disorder.
Trapp and his team of researchers will use a novel model of autism spectrum disorder and emerging microscopic technology to observe the development and interaction of astrocytes in the presence of autism spectrum disorders. "These studies will provide a critical framework for future strategies to target astrocytes in the treatment and prevention of autism spectrum disorders," Trapp said.
Trapp is internationally known for his work on mechanisms of neurodegeneration and repair in multiple sclerosis. His past research has included investigation of the cause of neurological disability in multiple sclerosis patients, cellular mechanism of brain repair in neurodegenerative diseases, and the molecular biology of myelination in the central and peripheral nervous systems.