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


Neurocircuits Involved in Speech Production - November 2008
The Nancy Lurie Marks Family Foundation, Wellesley , MA

Many individuals with autism produce little or no speech, yet by many measures their receptive language is adequate for many functional interactions with family members and caregivers. Many persons with autism can communicate with sign language, augmentative speech devices, and gesture. There is also the common observation that individuals with autism can speak and enunciate properly up to about three years of age after which this ability is lost. On the face of it, this would seem to suggest that the main problem has to do with loss of the control of movement, i.e. interference with the patterning of the extensive set of muscle activations needed to produce even the simplest of utterances. It is also possible that the sense of hearing is impaired and the auditory cortex subsequently fails to produce a coherent output map for the primary motor cortex to use during speech imitation, a crucial step in learning language. In the earliest stages of learning a native language, many cortical subsystems must contribute to giving saliency to self-produced babbling sounds. As the infant experiences the propagation of self-generated sound through bones and other tissues, responds to the gestures and touches of those around him, and attaches emotional meaning to human interaction, a neurally encoded syllabary forms.

Cognitive Neuroscience represents an attempt to treat the mind as a set of distributed processing centers or 'modules' that communicate along nerve fibers on time scales ranging from milliseconds to seconds. During periods of attentive listening, these centers can become entrained by brain rhythms that regulate the chunking of sensory information into syllables, words, and meaningful concepts. Impressive advances in neuroimaging now make it possible to test various theories about how language appears in the brain and gets mapped onto the neuromuscular apparatus of speech production. It is to be hoped that these concepts and tools can be used to answer fundamental questions about the nature of autism. A Boston Club held on November 14, 2008 titled "Neurocircuits Involved in Speech Production" focused on this area of inquiry.

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

Susan Birren, Ph.D., Brandeis University

Al Galaburda, MD, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

Matthew Goodwin, Ph.D.,Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Investigating the neural bases of normal and disordered speech
Frank Guenther, Ph.D., Boston University

Tal Kenet, Ph.D., Massachusetts General Hospital

Katherine Martien, MD, Massachusetts General Hospital

Rosalind Picard, Sc.D., Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Electrophysiological Signatures of Language Impairment in Autism Spectrum Disorders
Timothy P.L. Roberts, Ph.D., Children's Hospital of Philadelphia

The Human Speechome Project: Applications for Autism

Deb Roy, Ph.D., Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Gottfried Schlaug, MD, Ph.D., Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

Language in Autism: Developmental and Neuroimaging Research
Helen Tager-Flusberg, Ph.D., Boston University

Contributions of Memory Brain Systems to Language: Implications for Autism
Michael Ullman, Ph.D., Georgetown University


Systems Biology of Autism: Neurometabolism and Electrical Activity - September 2008

The Nancy Lurie Marks Family Foundation, Wellesley , MA


Autism is highly heterogeneous and it affects individuals in multiple ways. This heterogeneity is usually described in terms of differences in the triad of social, communication, and behavioral deficits. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that many of the difficulties faced by people with autism may have an underlying physiological or metabolic explanation. Genetic analysis suggests that many of the proteins involved in synaptic plasticity, the core neurobiological process underlying learning and memory, have roles in balancing responses to cellular stress (glucose deficiency) against the demands for growth (activity-dependent protein synthesis).

About one-third of adults with autism have seizures at some point in their lives. Dietary therapies, including the ketogenic diet, caloric restriction, and supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids have been used to manage seizures in murine models of epilepsy and may have efficacy in the treatment refractory epilepsy in patients.  A prominent theory of autism posits that there is an unusual excitatory/inhibitory ratio in autism, possibly interfering with electrical communication between brain regions involved in language and communication. Since the ketogenic diet is known to lower the excitatory/inhibitory ratio it is conceivable that the use of this diet or other dietary interventions might be efficacious in treating autism.   Of even greater interest to our Foundation are the implications for the etiology and pathogenesis of autism that the efficacy of these putative treatments might suggest.  A primary aim of the meeting is to explore how metabolic energy (glycolysis by glial cells) modulates neurotransmission and electrical activity.

A Human Epilepsy Gene that Regulates Glutamate Synapse Maturation and Remodeling During the Period when Autism Symptoms Develop

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


Margaret Bauman, M.D., Harvard Medical School


Susan Birren, Ph.D., Brandeis University


The Ketogenic Diet: Past, Present and Future
John Freeman, MD, The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

Matthew Goodwin, Ph.D., Massachusetts Institute of Technology


Martha Herbert, M.D., Ph.D., Massachusetts General Hospital

Tal Kenet, Ph.D., Massachusetts General Hospital


Katherine Martien, M.D., Massachusetts General Hospital


Rosalind Picard, Sc.D., Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Alexander Rotenberg, MD, Ph.D., Children's Hospital Boston

Diet Therapies for Neurological and Neurodegenerative Diseases

Thomas Seyfried, Ph.D., Boston College

Implications of Tuberous Sclerosis Syndrome for Understanding Seizures in Autism

Elizabeth Thiele, MD, Ph.D., Massachusetts General Hospital

The Biochemistry, Physiology, and Therapeutic Uses of Ketosis

Richard Veech, MD, Ph.D., National Institutes of Health

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