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TOP grant for VU and VUmc: “Towards better phenotyping and cellular models for sensory sensitivity in Autism Spectrum Disorder”

Date published: February 15th, 2017

TOP grant for VU and VUmc: “Towards better phenotyping and cellular models for sensory sensitivity in Autism Spectrum Disorder”

ZonMw awarded Niels Cornelisse, Tinca Polderman and Matthijs Verhage (Neuroscience, VUmc and VU), together with EMGO+ reseacher Sander Begeer (associate professor at the VU department of Developmental Psychology) from the Netherlands Autism Register, a TOP grant of €675.000.

Goal of their awarded research is to investigate the biological underpinnings of sensory sensitivity in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

ASD is a neurodevelopmental, highly heritable disorder with a >1% prevalence that is characterized by impairments in social skills and flexibility. Recently, sensory processing sensitivities, such as extreme sensitivity to light, sound, or touch, were added to the ASD diagnostic criteria (DSM5) as negative and prevalent symptoms. These symptoms are now considered “a critical cornerstone for characterizing and understanding ASD”. A new theory explains ASD by a disturbed excitation/inhibition (E/I) balance in synaptic networks in the brain. The current project aims to test this theory using behavioral, neuropsychological, neurophysiological and synaptic analyses of sensory processing deficits in ASD.

Niels Cornelisse: "It is an intriguing idea that the same cellular mechanisms are responsible for different symptoms in ASD, such as hyper sensitivity to sensory stimuli and impairments in social skills. With this multidisciplinary team we are in a unique position to -for the first time- link the cellular- to the behaviour level for individuals with ASD.”   

Tinca Polderman: “The heterogeneous nature of ASD likely blurs the window to underlying neurobiological factors. By focusing on sensory sensitivity we target specific symptoms, increasing the chance to find biological underpinnings of ASD, and thoroughly investigate the relation to other indicators of ASD, such as clinical severity, treatment and medication, and daily life functioning.”   

Sander Begeer: “We will collect data on sensory sensitivity in >1000 individuals of the Netherland Autism Register (NAR, https://www.nederlandsautismeregister.nl). Sensory sensitivity measures will be assessed at the behavioral, neuropsychological, neurophysiological and cellular level, providing a unique database for fundamental and applied research.”

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