UB researcher receives grant from family foundation dedicated to autism research

In 2015, Zhen Yan and colleagues discovered how to reverse certain disruptions of neuronal communication, which resulted in the rescue of autism-like behaviors in an animal model.

Release Date: January 8, 2016

The Nancy Lurie Marks Foundation does not accept unsolicited grant proposals; instead, it invites researchers who are doing innovative work to submit proposals.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — A private foundation dedicated to research on autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and similar conditions has awarded a $540,000 grant to Zhen Yan, PhD, professor of physiology and biophysics in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo.

The Nancy Lurie Marks Foundation does not accept unsolicited grant proposals; instead, it invites researchers who are doing innovative work to submit proposals.

The foundation became interested in Yan’s research after she published research last May in Cell Reports, reporting that her team had discovered how to reverse certain disruptions of neuronal communication stemming from the deletion of the Shank3 gene, which results in autism-like behaviors in an animal model. The UB scientists found that the disruption of this neuronal communication results from the dysregulation of actin filaments, a kind of cellular “highway” in the brain’s prefrontal cortex, the command center for high-level executive functions and a key region implicated in ASD.

Yan and her colleagues found that once the expression or activity of certain actin regulators was returned to normal, which allowed for the normal trafficking and functioning of important neuronal receptors, they were able to restore social behaviors in these mice.

She will use the funding, which begins in February, to extend her research on novel therapeutic strategies for autism by finding an effective treatment for patients with ASD who have genetic deletion or loss-of-function mutations of Shank3. She also will study how these findings might be applied to treating ASD when other genetic mutations are implicated.

 

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