Molecular Neuroimaging in Autism Spectrum Disorder

GABA is the major inhibitory neurotransmission in the human brain. Numerous lines of evidence have supported that the GABAergic system is altered in the brains of individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). However, previous studies only measure either receptor or neurotransmitter levels of the GABAergic system. Using a state-of-the-art hybrid neuroimaging system, our group was the first to characterize both the GABAA receptor densities and GABA concentrations simultaneously in individuals with ASD. The data obtained from this study will have broad translational importance in the development of GABAergic biomarkers and interventions.


Neurosteroid Metabolomics in Autism Spectrum Disorder

Neurosteroids are endogenous steroid hormones synthesized within the central nervous system which can modulate the excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmission systems. In addition, neurosteroids are known to mediate the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis). To decipher the role of complex metabolic network of neurosteroids in ASD, we will employ a targeted metabolomic approach, which has been successfully used in other areas of medicine such as cancer. This research will build the foundation for the use of the neurosteroids metabolic network as biosignatures for social anxiety and cognitive deficits. This research will further our understanding of the social neuroscience in ASD, and may serve as a model for other neuropsychiatric disorders which exhibit social and cognitive deficits. Findings from this research can be used to rationalize strategies in pharmacologic interventions. These biosignatures can potentially be utilized as objective measures in tracking state of the disorder as well as response to pharmacologic interventions, thus opening the door for personalized medicine in the future.


Novel Interventions for Autism Spectrum Disorder

Reducing Repetitive Speech 

Repetitive speech and restricted interests are common in individuals with ASD. We are developing an App designed to reduce perseverative and repetitive speech through the use of artificial intelligence technologies.

Improving Employment

Approximately 80% of adults with ASD are unemployed and underemployed. The main reason for this problem is related to the challenges ASD individuals have in the typical interview process. Through the Stanford Neurodiversity Project, our group is starting to develop and implement novel approaches to assess cognitive abilities and technical skills of individuals with ASD, and match their strengths with qualifications for appropriate positions.




Ongoing Collaborations

  • The Effects of Multisensory Stimuli on Behavioral Responses and Perception (Collaborators: Sarko and Sudheimer)
  • Randomized Controlled Pilot Trial of Pregnenolone in Autism (PI: Hardan)
  • Intranasal Vasopressin (AVP) Treatment in Children with Autism (PIs: Parker, Hardan)
  • Cross-Species Multi-Modal Neuroimaging to Investigate GABA Physiology in Fragile X Syndrome (PI: Chin)
  • Robust 1H MRSI of GABA, Glutamate, Glutamine, and Glutathione (PI: Spielman)
  • Investigating the role of GABA and glutamate on dorsal anterior cingulate activity associated with hypnosis (PI: Spiegel; co-Is: DeSouza, Williams)
  • Exploring Strengths and Challenges of Adults with Limited Spoken Language (PI: Phillips)