Genetic and pharmacological modulators of attention in autism spectrum disorder

Attention orienting determines where, when, and on what we focus our concentration and is an essential contributor to all cognitive functions. Profound changes in attention are associated with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a prevalent neurodevelopmental disorder defined by social communication deficits and restrictive and repetitive behaviours. Atypical attention comprises one of the earliest identifiable features of the disorder, and likely underlies the core traits. No pharmacological treatments exist for atypical attention orienting in ASD, and behavioural therapies are extremely time consuming, costly, and only moderately effective.

This project explores attention orienting in mice using our highly innovative cognitive testing platform that accurately mimics testing performed clinically in humans. We are interested in exploring contextual (arousal) and pharmacological (acetylcholine and noradrenaline systems) modulators of attention in a genetic mouse model of ASD.

This project will suit someone who is excited about handling mice and has a high attention to detail. Knowledge about the underlying neural circuitry of attention orienting and its potential for manipulation in ASD is scant. This proposal will provide critical new foundational knowledge about the types of therapies that might be effective in treating atypical attention in people with ASD.

Research team



A/Prof Katherine Johnson