Katrina Wong L&S Biological Sciences
Auditory Learning in the Prefrontal Cortex in Autism Spectrum Disorder
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by impairments in communication and atypical sensory responsivity. Recent research using Cntnap2 knock-out mice, a strain commonly used to investigate ASD, has established potential neural mechanisms underlying altered learning performance, such as behavioral flexibility and neural excitability. The Wilbrecht lab has previously identified the dorsal medial prefrontal cortex (dmPFC) as a hub for cognitive flexibility and maturation during adolescence. Understanding how ASD affects the development of the dmPFC is therefore essential. This project explores the neural basis of learning in adolescent and adult Cntnap2 knock-out mice using two-photon calcium imaging in the dmPFC. Differences in neural representations of auditory perceptual learning tasks between ASD and wild-type mice models will be examined. By analyzing neural synchronization and flexibility, as well as patterns in excitability, this project aims to demonstrate how Cntnap2 alters the neural mechanisms of perceptual learning in the dmPFC. This research will provide a valuable framework for understanding how ASD affects the organization of cortical circuits fundamental for learning in humans.