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Image of hands, bodies, and instruments around a face: Autism is a complex developmental disability.

Systems Biology of Autism-November 2006
The Nancy Lurie Marks Family Foundation, Wellesley, MA

The aim of 'Boston Clubs' is to explore scientific developments in fields that might one day contribute to a better understanding of autism and lead to treatments that will improve the lives of autistic individuals. Many lines of evidence, particularly genetic studies of multiplex families, suggest that this complex disorder is of neurobiological origin, yet we are a long way from understanding how genes predispose an individual to autism, or how epigenetic factors may tip the balance towards one form or another of this heterogeneous condition. Why so many persons with autism have trouble expressing themselves through speech is one of the deepest mysteries of human life, and one that will require scientific and technological creativity at the highest levels to resolve. A Boston Club held in November 2006 focused on the Systems Biology of Autism. Systems Biology, by its very nature, represents a powerful new paradigm  for organizing our growing knowledge of autism that could reveal entirely new lines of research.

Matthew Anderson, MD, Ph.D., Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

Albert Galaburda, M.D., Harvard Medical School

Information-Weighted LOD Scores in Autism Genomics (with Andrey Rzhetsky)
T. Conrad Gilliam, Ph.D., University of Chicago

Tal Kenet, Ph.D., Massachusetts General Hospital

Framing Autism in the Context of Systems Biology
Stanley Nelson, MD, University of California, Los Angeles

Damon Page, Ph.D., Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Information-Weighted LOD Scores in Autism Genomics (with T. Conrad Gilliam)
Andrey Rzhetsky, Ph.D., Columbia University

Understanding the Progression of Complex Developmental Diseases
Marc Vidal, Ph.D., Dana Farber Cancer Institute

Integrating Digital Medical Records into Autism Research
Peter White, Ph.D., The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia

The Heterogeneity of Autism: Lessons from Low Copy Number Repeat Frequencies
Michael Wigler, Ph.D., Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

Housing Options for Adults with Developmental Disabilities-June 2006
The Nancy Lurie Marks Family Foundation, Wellesley, MA

As children with autism age, it is necessary to think about how they will be supported as adults within the community. Interested in learning more about the needs of adults with autism and in doing more to improve opportunities for this community, the Foundation hosted a meeting on June 29, 2006 focused on long-term life planning and housing options for adults with autism spectrum disorders and related developmental disabilities. The purpose was to engage a group of leaders in the disability advocacy field in an open-ended discussion regarding the various housing options that are currently available to adults with disabilities and to encourage an exchange of ideas regarding potential enhancements to existing housing community models which might enable them to better meet the special needs of this population.

Ruth Aronson, Brandeis University

Edward Bruckner, Combined Jewish Philanthropies

Keith Duclos, Side By Side Supported Living, Inc.

Steven Eidelman, University of Delaware

Marty Krauss, Ph.D., Brandeis University

Julia Landau, JD, Massachusetts Advocates for Children

Darline Lewis, JD, Goulston & Storrs

Mary Lewis James, University of Michigan

Elizabeth Sternberg, Combined Jewish Philanthropies

Cathy Ficker Terrill, Ray Graham Association for People with Disabilities

Nancy Thaler, Northwestern Management Services, Inc.

David Wyzanski, Specialized Housing, Inc.

The Olfactory System and Autism - June 2006
The Nancy Lurie Marks Family Foundation, Wellesley, MA

A Boston Club titled “Social Cognition and the Olfactory Brain” was held on June 15, 2006. This meeting was aimed at understanding the structure and function of the primary and accessory olfactory systems with a special emphasis on social behaviors. Dysfunction of these systems in autism is speculative, but testable hypotheses can already be generated to investigate the impact of these systems on autistic behavior.

Social cognition is widely recognized as a core element that appears to go awry in autism; however, few attempts have been made to determine the origin of this malfunction. The ability to interact with a social group is important for survival among most mammals. The systems involved in processing, representing, and acting on social cues are likely to be some of the oldest in primate evolution, but also contain multiple pathways acquired later during phylogenesis. It is tempting to speculate that some of the evolutionary steps in creating the human social cognitive brain are recapitulated during ontogenetic development. In primates, these systems are centered on older olfactory and paraolfactory brain activities, and the visual system. Perhaps, the pathway to socialization in human beings is also centered on chemical signals during early brain development. Learning from olfactory and visual stimuli depends on bottom-up mechanisms relying mainly on salience and on top-down mechanisms linked to executive and memory functions. In young children, bottom-up processes are dominant, but innate top-down processes falling within the category of appetitive functions also play a crucial role, and joined by later developing executive top-down mechanisms, come to dominate over social cognitive development. The social deficit in autism might lie in the appetitive functions that regulate the actions and development of the toolboxes that have evolved for social interactions, such as speech, face analysis, analysis of emotional gestures, etc. It seems reasonable at this point in autism research to focus on the midline and ventral brain, through which appetitive systems work, including olfactory and paraolfactory systems.

Susan Birren, Ph.D., Brandeis University

Odors and social perception
Richard Doty, Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania

Olfaction and social behavior: a comparative approach
Heather Eisthen, Ph.D., Michigan State University

Ventral Midline Brain Contributions to Human Social Cognition
John Gabrieli, Ph.D., Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The Olfactory System and Autism: Nidor, ergo sum?
Albert Galaburda, MD, Harvard Medical School

Tal Kenet, Ph.D., Massachusetts General Hospital

Early Olfactory/Tactile Experience
Michael Leon, Ph.D., University of California Irvine

Damon Page, Ph.D., Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Susan Santangelo, Sc.D., Massachusetts General Hospital

Luca Turin, Ph.D., Flexitral, Inc.

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