Autumn, a junior studying biology at New Mexico State University, researched the role of environmental stress in Autism Spectrum Disorder
Differences in neuron morphology—including stress-induced changes—have been implicated in autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Broad has provided a space where collaboration, innovation, and learning can take place. My time here has given me a chance to not only take part in cutting-edge research but foster meaningful connections that will last a lifetime. My summer at BSRP has shown me how exciting research is, given me incredible mentors to look up to, and has shaped my future as a scientist. Studies indicate that individuals with ASD experience heightened responses to stress, but the contribution of genetic risk and environmental stress remains elusive. We are investigating how stress affects neuron morphology in ASD. Firstly, induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) from control and ASD patients underwent neural differentiation. I treated neurons with hydrocortisone and performed immunofluorescence microscopy to assess the effects of stress on neuron morphology. Additionally, I have started to generate stable CRISPRi iPSC lines compatible with neural differentiation. This will enable future comparison of ASD and control lines in response to the knockdown of high-confidence ASD risk genes under stress conditions using single-cell RNA-seq and Cell Painting to assess changes in gene expression and neuron morphology, respectively. Emphasis is placed on creating female CRISPRi lines to increase the representation of females in ASD research. The results will begin to decipher the interaction between genes and environmental stress in ASD, including differences due to sex and human genetic variation.
Project: Investigating Stress-Induced Changes in Neuron Morphology in Autism Spectrum Disorder
Mentor: Vy Ngo
PI: Nehme Lab, Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research