In our behavior neurogenetics laboratory we study the role of genetics in complex behaviors. Autism is a behaviorally defined disorder with symptoms that include impairments in social interactions, cognitive inflexibility, language difficulties, and repetitive motor behaviors. Assumed to be the result of a combination of genetic and environmental factors, the precise etiology of autism remains elusive. The BTBR T+ tf/J mouse displays several autism-like behaviors and we are studying this strain in more detail to elucidate the underlying genes and brain structures. For instance, the BTBR T+ tf/J mouse displays reduced corpus callosum and hippocampal commissure size relative to other mouse strains, which we have linked to regions on Chromosomes 4 and X .
In addition to studies to identify the specific genes involved in the development of these two structures, we are currently investigating the relationship between these commissure abnormalities and the autism-like behaviors displayed in BTBR T+ tf/J mice. Over the past few decades much attention has been focused on the role of genetics in learning and memory and a number of genes have been recognized as playing pivotal roles. However, the learning and memory process is complex and influenced by many genes. In our research we investigate learning and memory and related neuroanatomical structures (e.g., mossy fibers in the hippocampus) in genetically defined mouse strains. This enables us to examine the interrelationships among genes, brain and behavior. We recently identified several chromosomal regions that are involved in specific types of learning and memory and are doing further studies to identify the genes involved.