While autism clearly involves altered function of the central nervous system, the neuropathology of the disorder remains controversial. This is due in part,to the enormous complexity of the disorder, which likely has many causes and many biological trajectories. It is also due to the fact that few neuroimaging studies involve very young children or severely affected individuals. This lack of information is compounded by the fact that findings at the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) level of analysis cannot be confirmed and extended to the cellular level due to a lack of postmortem brains.

February 26, 2014: Neuroimaging Contributions to the Understanding of Brain Development in Autism

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February 26, 2014, 4:30-6:30 p.m. EST
Gerald D. Fischbach Auditorium at the Simons Foundation
160 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY

In this lecture, David G. Amaral will present neuroimaging data acquired through the University of California, Davis MIND Institute’s Autism Phenome Project. Young children (aged 2 to 3 and a half years old) are recruited into this longitudinal project and MRI scans are acquired annually. Results will be presented supporting the concept that there are different types of altered brain development in different children with autism. Amaral will also discuss neuroimaging studies of infant siblings of children with autism that provide evidence for abnormal brain growth that may contribute to early biomarkers of autism.

David G. Amaral joined the University of California, Davis in 1995 as a professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and the Center for Neuroscience. He is a staff scientist in the Brain, Mind and Behavior Unit at the California National Primate Research Center. Amaral was named the Beneto Foundation Chair and research director of the MIND Institute in 1998. He received a joint Ph.D. in psychology and neurobiology from the University of Rochester.

Amaral’s research focuses on the neurobiology of social behavior and the development and neuroanatomical organization and plasticity of the primate and human amygdala and hippocampal formation. Increasingly, his research has been dedicated to understanding the biological basis of autism. As research director of the MIND Institute, Amaral coordinates a comprehensive and multidisciplinary analysis of children with autism, called the Autism Phenome Project, to define biomedical characteristics of different types of autism.

Most recently, Amaral became director of Autism BrainNet, a collaborative effort sponsored by the Simons Foundation and Autism Speaks, to solicit postmortem brain tissue to facilitate autism research.


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