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David G. Amaral, Ph.D.

“Neuroimaging the Full Spectrum of Autism”

October 17, 2014

Dr. Amaral joined the University of California, Davis in 1995 as a Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and the Center for Neuroscience and is currently a Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Neuroscience. In 1998, Dr. Amaral was named the Beneto Foundation Chair and founding Research Director of the M.I.N.D. Institute. Dr. Amaral received a joint PhD in Psychology and Neurobiology from the University of Rochester and he carried out postdoctoral work at Washington University in Neuroanatomy. He spent 13 years at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies before moving to UC Davis. Dr. Amaral pursues research dealing with the neurobiology of social behavior and with the development, neuroanatomical organization and plasticity of the primate and human amygdala and hippocampal formation. His research effort has increasingly been dedicated to understanding the biological bases of autism spectrum disorder. This work includes postmortem studies of the autistic brain and magnetic resonance imaging studies of children with autism spectrum disorder. He has also spearheaded efforts to establish nonhuman primate models of neuroimmune etiologies of autism spectrum disorder. As Research Director of the M.I.N.D. Institute, he coordinates a comprehensive and multidisciplinary analysis of children with autism called the Autism Phenome Project to define biomedical characteristics of different types of autism. Most recently, Dr. Amaral has become Director of Autism BrainNet, a collaborative effort sponsored by the Simons Foundation, Autism Speaks, and the Autism Science Foundation to solicit postmortem brain tissue to facilitate autism research.

Friday October 17th at 3:30pm at the Monsanto Auditorium in the Bond Life Sciences Center.

There have been hundreds of neuroimaging studies of individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). However, most have had very small samples of subjects, few have been longitudinal and almost all have not included subjects with severe ASD and intellectual disability. Dr. Amaral will briefly describe the Autism Phenome Project, a large, multidisciplinary study of young children with autism spectrum disorder. The neuroimaging data that support the view that autism has many biological subtypes will also be summarized. To date, 270 children (2-3 ½-years old) with autism spectrum disorder or age-matched typically developing controls have received structural and functional MRI scans. Comments will focus on data related to total brain size as well as alterations in the development of the amygdala. These data provide ample evidence for different “neurophenotypes” of ASD. Discussion will also include recent findings of altered brain structure in children as young as 6 months of age that later attain a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder.