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Neural Basis of Empathy and Its Dysfunction in Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD)

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Annual rept. 1 Aug 2012-31 Jul 2013

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The most human of emotions are defined by how we feel about others. Such other-regarding preferences ORP, in the parlance of economics, both permit and necessitate the institutions that form the core of modern society. Abnormal functionalities associated with ORP in the brain are also thought to be a critical component underlying neuropsychiatric disorders marked by social deficits. The primary objectives of the research project are to develop an animal model of ORP Objective 1, and investigate the functional contributions of the brain circuits Objectives 2-3 and neuropeptide oxytocin OT Objective 4. We have successfully developed a rhesus macaque model of ORP and demonstrated that rhesus monkeys care about rewards delivered to another monkey Chang et al., 2011. We then for the first time demonstrated that inhaled OT using a pediatric nebulizer effectively reaches the central nervous system of rhesus macaques, providing a proof of concept for a clinical OT treatment method well-tolerated by children. Subsequently, we showed the inhaled OT promotes prosocial preferences and social gaze rates Chang et al., 2012. Furthermore, we have recorded single neuron activity from OFC as well as the anterior cingulate sulcus ACCs and gyrus ACCg during the ORP task Chang and Platt, 2013. Finally, we have inactivated OFC and ACCg and found differential causal contribution to social behaviors between these brain regions. Our results begin to elucidate neural mechanisms underlying ORP and open up future research aimed at understanding how therapeutic OT treatments in individuals with autism spectrum disorders work in their brains.

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  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • Medicine and Medical Research

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