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Dr. Carolin Mößnang

Mößnang C. Universität Heidelberg Olympia Morata-Programm: Typical and atypical development of the social brain – neuroimaging evidence and implications for psychiatric research. 03/2018-02/2020.

Social neuroscience is a quickly evolving research discipline that aims at uncovering the cognitive and neural underpinnings of human social behavior. Difficulties in the social domain are a major risk for mental health and can be observed in a wide range of psychiatric conditions, in particular in developmental disorders such as autism. In order to understand the underlying pathophysiological mechanisms, one question is of particular importance: What are the changes in the brain that are responsible for the development of social abilities from childhood to adulthood? This question requires a developmental approach which allows to relate changes in neurobiology to changes in social abilities. Due to methodological challenges, such as the need for large sample sizes in a longitudinal design, this question remains unanswered. The current Habilitation project aims at filling this gap by characterizing the typical and atypical development of the so-called “social brain” in healthy individuals and individuals with autism from childhood to adulthood. Data were collected locally (project 1) and as part of the largest European multicenter study on autism (projects 2 and 3). By combining cross-sectional and longitudinal analyses of neuroimaging, behavioral and clinical data, detailed developmental trajectories of the social brain can be determined, along with their association with structural brain maturation, genetic influences and the acquisition of behavioral skills. With this Habilitation project, I will not only substantiate my expertise in the fields of social neuroscience and developmental psychiatry, but will also strengthen my methodological profile in the field of multimodal pediatric imaging.

Meyer-Lindenberg A. EU - Europäische Union 115300: EU-AIMS - European Autism Interventions – A Multicentre Study for Developing New Medications. 04/2012-03/2017.

There are no effective pharmacological treatments for the core symptoms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and our understanding of the pathophysiology of the disease is poor. Research is hampered by a lack of valid and reliable cellular assays and animal models; an absence of tests that demonstrate efficacy in healthy volunteers from childhood to adulthood; and the reliance of clinical trials on biologically heterogeneous groups of patients as operationally-defined by DSM/ICD10 categories. Further, even if novel treatments were developed, there is no EU platform to test them clinically. Despite these limitations, the recent identification of genetic risk factors for ASD provides unique opportunities to substantially improve this situation. We therefore propose an integrated, translational, effort to achieve key objectives for ASD research, which will deliver new research tools and standards for clinical development, and pave the way for drug discovery and clinical trials. To implement this integrated effort, 13 leading ‘hubs’ in European institutions (with linked ‘satellites’ across the EU) have partnered with Autism Speaks (the world’s leading Autism Research Charity), three SMEs and EFPIA to: a) develop cellular assays and animal models based on confirmed genetic risks, and utilize these models to focus on translational endophenotypes for facilitating new drug discovery; b) validate biomarkers and patient group stratification to optimize conditions for clinical trials; and c) develop a sustainable EU-wide clinical infrastructure to promote research and development of new drugs. We will couple this integrated research effort with the development of new training opportunities and the implementation of new analytical approaches. One of Europe’s leading scientific management SMEs (GABO:mi) will facilitate the management of EU-AIMS and a distinguished international Scientific Advisory Board will provide input and guidance to ensure that we integrate effectively with other ongoing international initiatives, and collaborate constructively with patient groups and international consortia and experts. For example, we will actively collaborate with the patient group, Autism Europe, and the Autism Genetic Resource Exchange (AGRE). Thus, we propose an innovative program that will have genuine impact on academic, pharmaceutical, and regulatory stakeholders in the field of ASD. By the end of the 5 year project we expect to provide novel validated cellular assays, animal models, new fMRI methods with dedicated analysis techniques, new PET radioligands, as well as new genetic and proteomic biomarkers for patient-segmentation or individual response prediction. We will provide a research network that can rapidly test new treatments in man. These tools should provide our EFPIA partners with an added competitive advantage in developing new drugs for ASD.

Zentralinstitut für Seelische Gesundheit (ZI) - https://www.zi-mannheim.de