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Neuroscientists identify brain region linked to altered social interactions in autism model

MIT Latest News - Fri, 07/26/2019 - 10:23am

Although psychiatric disorders can be linked to particular genes, the brain regions and mechanisms underlying particular disorders are not well-understood. Mutations or deletions of the SHANK3 gene are strongly associated with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and a related rare disorder called Phelan-McDermid syndrome. Mice with SHANK3 mutations also display some of the traits associated with autism, including avoidance of social interactions, but the brain regions responsible for this behavior have not been identified.

A new study by neuroscientists at MIT and colleagues in China provides clues to the neural circuits underlying social deficits associated with ASD. The paper, published in Nature Neuroscience, found that structural and functional impairments in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) of SHANK3 mutant mice are linked to altered social interactions.

“Neurobiological mechanisms of social deficits are very complex and involve many brain regions, even in a mouse model,” explains Guoping Feng, the James W. and Patricia T. Poitras Professor at MIT and one of the senior authors of the study. “These findings add another piece of the puzzle to mapping the neural circuits responsible for this social deficit in ASD models.”

The Nature Neuroscience paper is the result of a collaboration between Feng, who is also an investigator at MIT’s McGovern Institute and a senior scientist in the Broad Institute’s Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research, and Wenting Wang and Shengxi Wu at the Fourth Military Medical University, Xi’an, China.

A number of brain regions have been implicated in social interactions, including the prefrontal cortex (PFC) and its projections to brain regions including the nucleus accumbens and habenula, but these studies failed to definitively link the PFC to altered social interactions seen in SHANK3 knockout mice.

In the new study, the authors instead focused on the ACC, a brain region noted for its role in social functions in humans and animal models. The ACC is also known to play a role in fundamental cognitive processes, including cost-benefit calculation, motivation, and decision making.

In mice lacking SHANK3, the researchers found structural and functional disruptions at the synapses, or connections, between excitatory neurons in the ACC. The researchers went on to show that the loss of SHANK3 in excitatory ACC neurons alone was enough to disrupt communication between these neurons and led to unusually reduced activity of these neurons during behavioral tasks reflecting social interaction.

Having implicated these ACC neurons in social preferences and interactions in SHANK3 knockout mice, the authors then tested whether activating these same neurons could rescue these behaviors. Using optogenetics and specfic drugs, the researchers activated the ACC neurons and found improved social behavior in the SHANK3 mutant mice.

“Next, we are planning to explore brain regions downstream of the ACC that modulate social behavior in normal mice and models of autism,” explains Wenting Wang, co-corresponding author on the study. “This will help us to better understand the neural mechanisms of social behavior, as well as social deficits in neurodevelopmental disorders.”

Previous clinical studies reported that anatomical structures in the ACC were altered and/or dysfunctional in people with ASD, an initial indication that the findings from SHANK3 mice may also hold true in these individuals.

The research was funded, in part, by the Natural Science Foundation of China. Guoping Feng was supported by NIMH grant no. MH097104, the  Poitras Center for Psychiatric Disorders Research at the McGovern Institute at MIT, and the Hock E. Tan and K. Lisa Yang Center for Autism Research at the McGovern Institute at MIT.

MASSACHUSETTS: State House passes $1B for local climate change projects

ClimateWire News - Fri, 07/26/2019 - 6:42am
Massachusetts House lawmakers have approved legislation creating a $1.3 billion fund to help local cities and towns address climate change.

TEMPERATURES: Drownings up in France as people try to escape the heat

ClimateWire News - Fri, 07/26/2019 - 6:42am
France's interior minister warned as the country suffered through another heat wave that drownings across the country are up 30% this month compared with last July.

MINING: Executives split on who bears burden of climate change

ClimateWire News - Fri, 07/26/2019 - 6:42am
The mining industry is starting to split on who bears responsibility for all the carbon emissions caused by smelting iron ore into steel.

PEOPLE: Fired meteorologist lands at Lincoln presidential museum

ClimateWire News - Fri, 07/26/2019 - 6:42am
A Springfield, Ill., meteorologist fired in June for criticizing his TV station's severe weather alert brand has been hired at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

COURTS: Lawsuit seeks info on Pruitt's climate debate

ClimateWire News - Fri, 07/26/2019 - 6:42am
The Environmental Defense Fund is taking EPA to court over what it claims are unlawfully redacted documents concerning "attacks on climate science."

CAMPAIGN 2020: Steyer unveils climate plan as CNN announces forum

ClimateWire News - Fri, 07/26/2019 - 6:42am
Longtime environmental activist and recent presidential contender Tom Steyer released a new climate plan yesterday that tracks with what many of his rivals in the Democratic primary want to do about the threat of a warmer planet.

EPA: ACE rule excluded key details, researchers say

ClimateWire News - Fri, 07/26/2019 - 6:42am
EPA's power plant carbon rule gives utilities six ways to become more efficient, but it assumes industry won't use two of them.

POLITICS: Duo touting CO2 has a new plan: Attack EPA climate finding

ClimateWire News - Fri, 07/26/2019 - 6:42am
Two outspoken critics of mainstream climate science are launching a new project aimed at undermining EPA's 2009 endangerment finding on greenhouse gas emissions.

EPA: Investigations and a disputed legacy follow Wehrum

ClimateWire News - Fri, 07/26/2019 - 6:42am
It was around lunchtime on Thursday, June 20, when Bill Wehrum strode out of a hearing room in the Rayburn House Office Building.

POLITICS: 'Get back to school' — GOP climate divisions on display

ClimateWire News - Fri, 07/26/2019 - 6:42am
The full spectrum of Republican climate politics was on display yesterday. So was the generational divide driving it.

CAR RULES: 5 questions about the surprise deal

ClimateWire News - Fri, 07/26/2019 - 6:42am
The deal inked between automakers and California raises questions about the industry's greenhouse gas emissions and whether the Trump administration will react aggressively.

The impacts of a capacity-building workshop in a randomized adaptation project

Nature Climate Change - Fri, 07/26/2019 - 12:00am

Nature Climate Change, Published online: 26 July 2019; doi:10.1038/s41558-019-0536-3

Lack of information is a barrier to climate change adaptation, and filling the information gap is a key component of adaptation projects. However, using a randomized controlled trial, this study finds no impact of a capacity-building workshop on community water management practices in Costa Rica.

Grassland gas

Nature Climate Change - Fri, 07/26/2019 - 12:00am

Nature Climate Change, Published online: 26 July 2019; doi:10.1038/s41558-019-0548-z

Grassland gas

In models we trust

Nature Climate Change - Fri, 07/26/2019 - 12:00am

Nature Climate Change, Published online: 26 July 2019; doi:10.1038/s41558-019-0550-5

In models we trust

The limits of capacity building

Nature Climate Change - Fri, 07/26/2019 - 12:00am

Nature Climate Change, Published online: 26 July 2019; doi:10.1038/s41558-019-0541-6

Randomized control trials are a potentially useful research design for identifying the causal effects of capacity-building interventions in the context of environmental development. But new research suggests that short-term capacity-building projects do not increase the rate at which local water districts in Costa Rica adopt climate adaptation strategies.

Counting tree contributions

Nature Climate Change - Fri, 07/26/2019 - 12:00am

Nature Climate Change, Published online: 26 July 2019; doi:10.1038/s41558-019-0549-y

Counting tree contributions

The political economy of solar power

Nature Climate Change - Fri, 07/26/2019 - 12:00am

Nature Climate Change, Published online: 26 July 2019; doi:10.1038/s41558-019-0532-7

The political economy of solar power

Benefits of trees

Nature Climate Change - Fri, 07/26/2019 - 12:00am

Nature Climate Change, Published online: 26 July 2019; doi:10.1038/s41558-019-0556-z

Forests play an important role in carbon storage and climate regulation, as well as supporting biodiversity. Restoration of lost and degraded areas is firmly back on the agenda with a recent UN announcement.

On our bookshelf

Nature Climate Change - Fri, 07/26/2019 - 12:00am

Nature Climate Change, Published online: 26 July 2019; doi:10.1038/s41558-019-0547-0

On our bookshelf

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