Principal Faculty of our Autism Research Initiative
Phil Haydon, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Neuroscience and Grisard Professor of Neuroscience, is one of the world's foremost experts in neuron-glia interactions, now thought to be central to a complete understanding of the brain and neurological disorders including ASD. He is the founder of GliaCure, a biotech start-up applying new discoveries in glial cell functioning to treatments for neurodegenerative disease.
Associate Professor Thomas Biederer, Ph.D., who trained under Nobel Prize–recipient Thomas Südhof before rising through the ranks at Yale University, joined TUSM in 2013. Dr. Biederer and colleagues study the roles of synapse-organizing molecules in synapse development and plasticity. This class of proteins, including neurexins, neuroligins, and SynCAMs, has emerged in human genetic studies as a major risk factor for ASD. The Biederer Lab employs a multidisciplinary approach integrating biochemical, cell biological, and behavioral experiments with the long-term goal of understanding and treating ASD.
Professor Michele Jacob, Ph.D., and colleagues have zeroed in on a protein known as APC (adenomatous polyposis coli) and the ways that disrupted APC function can contribute to learning deficits, autism, and epilepsy. Recent studies from Dr. Jacob's lab are the first to demonstrate that APC is needed to assemble the precise complex of proteins for a successful synaptic event, providing invaluable new insight into neurotransmission. Her work could also lead to a new diagnostic tool for ASD. Dr. Jacob is also a key member of the CURE "Dream Team" at Tufts, studying childhood epilepsy, a disorder often occurring alongside ASD.
The laboratory of Assistant Professor Yongjie Yang, Ph.D., is focused on the role of glia in synapse biology, the regulation of glial functions, and how glial dysfunction contributes to neurological disorders. The Yang Lab is approaching autism from a unique astroglial perspective and has characterized the first dysregulation of astroglial glutamate transporter in the pathogenesis of fragile X syndrome, a genetic form of autism. The Yang Lab currently investigates the role of astroglial dysfunction in fragile X syndrome (FXS), and the results can ultimately lead to astroglia-based novel intervention approaches for FXS and autism.
Assistant Professor Chris Dulla, Ph.D., and colleagues were the first to describe the spatial and temporal properties of glutamate, the main excitatory neurotransmitter in the central nervous system and have developed new real-time imaging techniques for studying glutamate in the brain. Dr. Dulla was named to the CURE Epilepsy "Dream Team" for his groundbreaking research in childhood epilepsy, a disorder often occurring alongside ASD.
Assistant Professor Jamie Maguire, Ph.D., has pioneered research on the regulation of GABA receptors under both physiological and pathological conditions. Research in the Maguire Lab focuses on changes in neuronal excitability associated with changes in the environment, such as in response to stress, and how dysregulation of GABA receptors under pathological conditions may contribute to epilepsy, affective disorders, and ASD. The Maguire Lab also has an interest in the comorbidity of seizure disorders in ASD and Dr. Maguire founded ENGAGE, the New England Area Group on Epilepsy, to facilitate collaborations in this research area.