Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)


Biomedical Sciences

Date of Award


Committee Chair or Co-Chairs

Gregory A. Ordway

Committee Members

Scott Champney, Donald Hoover, Michael Kruppa, Meng-Yang Zhu


Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) now affects 1 in 68 children in the United States. Disorders within this spectrum share hallmark deficits in verbal and nonverbal communication, repetitive behavior, and social interaction. The cause of ASD is still unknown. Even though hundreds of genetic abnormalities have been identified in ASD, these markers account for less than 1% of all ASD cases. Researchers continue to search for pathological markers common to all or most cases of ASD. The research presented in this dissertation used a novel combination of state-of-the-art methods to investigate brain pathology in ASD. Postmortem anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) from ASD and typically developing brain donors was obtained from 2 national brain banks. The ACC was chosen for study because of its documented role in influencing behaviors characteristically disrupted in ASD. An initial study revealed elevated glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP) in ACC white matter from ASD brain donors compared to typically developing control donors. Laser capture microdissection was then employed to isolate specific cell populations from the ACC from ASD and control brain donors. Captured cells were used to interrogate potential gene expression abnormalities that may underlie biological mechanisms that contribute behavioral abnormalities of ASD. The expression of 4 genes associated with synaptic function, NTRK2, GRM8, SLC1A1, and GRIP1, were found to be significantly lower in ACC pyramidal neurons from ASD donors when compared to control donors. These expression abnormalities were not observed in ACC glia. Given robust evidence of neuronal and glial pathology in the ACC in ASD, a novel method for whole transcriptome analysis in single cell populations was developed to permit an unbiased analysis of brain cellular pathology in ASD. A list of genes that were differentially expressed, comparing ASD to control donors, was produced for both white matter and pyramidal neuron samples. By examining the ASD brain at the level of its most basic component, the cell, methods were developed that should allow future research to identify common cellular-based pathology of the ASD brain. Such research will increase the likelihood of future development of novel pharmacotherapy for ASD patients.

Document Type

Dissertation - unrestricted


Copyright by the authors.