Date of Completion

Spring 5-1-2020

Thesis Advisor(s)

Roslyn Fitch

Honors Major

Biological Sciences


Developmental Neuroscience | Developmental Psychology | Other Physiology | Psychological Phenomena and Processes


Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that is characterized by abnormal social behavior, deficits in communication, and motor stereotypy. The SHANK3 gene, responsible for the generation of a scaffolding protein that is integral for the development of synapses, has been identified as one of the primary candidate genes implicated in the disorder. Shank3B is the rodent homolog for this gene. Research has shown that when this gene is disrupted in rodent models (e.g., via knock-out (KO)), ASD-like behaviors result. These include deficits in social interaction, increased anxiety, and repetitive self-grooming. The current study aimed to identify a physiological marker for autism in Shank3B mutant mice. A neuroanatomical analysis of the volumes of the neocortex and amygdala, two of the primary brain structures implicated in ASD, was conducted in order to determine if a biomarker was present in the form of a volume difference in Shank3b KO mice. It was found that there was no significant volume difference between the gene knockout and control mice across both structures. However, the volume of the right cortex was found to be marginally decreased in the heterozygous mice compared to the control. This may be related to some of the memory deficits that are typical of ASD. Future research in this field should focus on analyzing some of the other brain structures that are functionally affected in the disorder, with the goal of finding a biological marker that may enable earlier diagnosis and intervention for ASD.