Revolutionizing autism research in virtual reality

summary: Autism, which is a unique and multifaceted condition in nature, lacks a standardized diagnostic approach, which makes treatment and research challenges. A new study highlights the potential of mouse models in autism research, offering insights into the molecular and physiological mechanisms.

Researchers emphasize the role of the insular cortex and introduce the innovative “mouse metaverse” – a virtual reality tool for exploring brain dynamics during social behaviour. Through these approaches, researchers aim to understand the molecular foundations of the human brain through the lens of autism.

Key facts:

  1. The complexity of autism and its individual expression make standardized diagnostic methods elusive.
  2. Mouse models offer a concrete way to study the molecular and physiological mechanisms related to autism.
  3. “Mouse shifting” involves using virtual reality to record neural activity during social behaviors, which could revolutionize our understanding of brain dynamics.

source: Kobe University

Autism is difficult to study and treat because it is an individual condition that lacks accurate quantification. Developing mouse models of human mental disorders has proven to be an easy-to-use approach for studying molecular mechanisms, argues a new review and highlights the current state of the art in autism research.

Whether or not autism spectrum disorder is a disorder that needs to be treated or a disability that needs to be understood is something experts debate.

This shows a child in a virtual reality system.
In the review, the neuroscientist stresses the importance of the insular cortex, a deeply buried region of the brain that has interconnections with sensory, emotional, motivational, and cognitive systems. Credit: Neuroscience News

However, this is indicative of the fact that it is a highly individual condition with many expressions and causes, without a quantitative evaluation system or an objective mechanistic diagnostic method. This makes it difficult for researchers to analyze the mechanisms of autism and develop potential treatments.

Takumi Toru, Professor of Physiology and Cell Biology at Kobe University, explains: “Autism is a complex disorder like cancer. Although genetic causes contribute more to the disorder than other psychiatric disorders, environmental causes are also important. For the treatment of autism We need to understand the neural circuits of social maladjustment and develop new techniques to manipulate the neural circuits in humans.

One such technique is the development of mouse models of human mental disorders, which Takumi is a pioneer in. Transgenic mice that exhibit social behavior disorders provide a unique opportunity to analyze precisely the molecular and physiological mechanisms underlying autism and to test potential treatment approaches.

As an internationally recognized expert in the field, Takumi was invited by the magazine Molecular Psychiatry To sum up the state of the art.

In the review, the neuroscientist stresses the importance of the insular cortex, a deeply buried region of the brain that has interconnections with sensory, emotional, motivational, and cognitive systems. In mice, it is involved in regulating emotions, empathy, and motivation among many other functions, and in humans, it is known to be involved in self-awareness.

The review explains in detail the genes and physiological functions of the insular cortex that influence the onset of autism.

“Psychological disorders, in general, are considered to be disorders of neural circuits, so elucidating neural circuits in social behavior will lead to the development of future therapies based on neural circuits,” Takumi explains.

One interesting way to study how molecular imbalances cause social maladjustment is what Takumi calls “mouse transformation”: “We recently developed a virtual reality (VR) system for recording neural network activity during social behavior. The combination of the two VR systems opens up a new avenue for exploration.” dynamics between brains.

Through his work, the Kobe University professor is ultimately trying to understand the molecular basis of the brain’s mental function. “We are interested in the human mind. By understanding the pathophysiology of autism, I would like to understand how the human mind is generated in the brain,” says Takumi.

About autism research news and neurotechnology

author: Daniel Chains
source: Kobe University
communication: Daniel Shines – Kobe University
picture: Image credited to Neuroscience News

Original search: open access.
Social circles and their dysfunction in autism spectrum disorderWritten by Takumi Toru et al. Molecular Psychiatry

a summary

Social circles and their dysfunction in autism spectrum disorder

Social behaviors, which is how individuals act cooperatively and competitively with specific individuals, are seen widely across species. Rodents display different social behaviours, and many different behavioral paradigms have been used to investigate the rules of their neural circuits.

Social behavior is highly susceptible to brain network dysfunction caused by neurological and neuropsychiatric conditions such as autism spectrum disorders (ASDs).

Studying rat models of ASD provides a promising avenue toward elucidating the mechanisms of abnormal social behavior and potential therapeutic targets for treatment. In this review, we present recent progress and key findings regarding the neural circuit mechanisms underlying social behaviour, with a particular focus on rodent studies that monitor and manipulate the activity of specific circuits using modern neuroscience approaches.

Social behavior is mediated by a brain-wide network distributed between the primary cortices (eg, the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), the anterior cingulate cortex, the insular cortex (IC)) and the subcorticals (eg, the nucleus accumbens, the amygdala). The basolateral (BLA), and ventral tegmental area) are structures affected by multiple neuromodulatory systems (such as oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin).

We draw particular attention to the IC as a unique cortical region that mediates multisensory integration, encoding ongoing social interaction, social decision-making, emotion, and empathy.

In addition, a compilation of studies investigating mouse models of ASD demonstrates that dysfunction in mPFC-BLA circuits and neuromodulation is prominent. Pharmacological rescues by topical or systemic (eg, oral) administration of many drugs have provided valuable clues for the development of novel therapeutic agents for autism spectrum disorder.

Future efforts and technological advances will push forward the next frontiers in this field, such as elucidating brain-level network activity and the neural dynamics between brains during real and virtual social interactions, and establishing circuit-based therapy for disorders affecting society. mission.

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