Closing the species gap: Translational approaches to studying sensory processing differences relevant for autism spectrum disorder
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Lay Summary: It has always been difficult to relate results from animal research to humans. We try to close this gap by studying changes in sensory processing using careful protocol design and collaboration between clinicians and researchers. Sensory pathways are comparable between animals and humans, and are affected in the same way as the rest of the brain in ASD. Using changes in hearing as a template, we point the field in an innovative direction by providing a framework for collecting cohesive data in rodents and humans.
study of sensory phenotypes has great potential for increasing research translation between species, a necessity to decipher the neural mechanisms that contribute to higher-order differences in neurological conditions such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Over the past decade, despite separate advances in our understanding of the structural and functional differences within the brain of autistic and non-autistic individuals and in rodent models for ASD, researchers have had difficulty translating the findings in murine species to humans, mostly due to incompatibility in experimental methodologies used to screen for ASD phenotypes. Focusing on sensory phenotypes offers an avenue to close the species gap because sensory pathways are highly conserved across species and are affected by the same risk-factors as the higher-order brain areas mostly responsible for the diagnostic criteria for ASD. By first reviewing how sensory processing has been studied to date, we direct our focus to electrophysiological and behavioral techniques that can be used to study sensory phenotypes consistently across species. Using auditory sensory phenotypes as a template, we seek to improve the accessibility of translational methods by providing a framework for collecting cohesive data in both rodents and humans. Specifically, evoked-potentials, acoustic startle paradigms, and psychophysical detection/discrimination paradigms can be created and implemented in a coordinated and systematic fashion across species. Through careful protocol design and collaboration, sensory processing phenotypes can be harnessed to bridge the gap that exists between preclinical animal studies and human testing, so that mutually held questions in autism research can be answered.