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Robert Malenka discusses reward’s role in autism

23 July 2014
The Presenter

Robert Malenka

Professor, Stanford School of Medicine

On 23 July, Robert Malenka presented his work investigating whether oxytocin signaling in the nucleus accumbens — a brain region believed to mediate social reward and drug addiction — is required for reinforcing social interactions. The results of this research may provide new information about the function of reward circuits in mouse models of autism. This insight could prove critical for developing therapies that ameliorate some of the core symptoms of the disorder.

Malenka is Pritzker Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University in California.

You can watch a complete replay of the webinar above.

Use the comments section below to submit questions we didn’t have time to discuss during the Q&A session or to pose follow-up questions for Malenka.


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The Spectrum Webinar Series aims to facilitate the free exchange of ideas among autism researchers, including discussion of published and unpublished research, hypotheses and results. Members of the press may report information presented during a Spectrum webinar only if that material has already been published elsewhere or they have first obtained express written consent from the presenter.

About Webinars
Presentations by leading experts that showcase new findings, useful techniques and emerging topics in autism research. We invite questions before and during the presentations in the Comments section.
  • J Brecher

    Many individuals w/ high-functioning autism have described discomfort with eye contact (vs simple disinterest, for example). Might oxytocin and social reward explain this, or would you assume this is “oversensitivity” due to some other mechanism?

  • Teresa Madsen, Emory University

    PARV neurons express OTR? How is that not important?

  • Nicola Grissom, U Penn

    Have you had the opportunity to examine whether there are similar synaptic effects in the dorsal striatum of oxytocin signaling, or of social experience?

  • Christophe Grundschober, Hoffmann-La Roche

    Did you test the effect of specific serotonin reuptake inhibitors on social place preference? Did you see any effect? Thanks!

  • Andrew Ray

    What inspired you to look to the raphe, since the colocalization in the basolateral amygdala looked pretty strong?

    Very elegant work, by the way

  • Carl Feinstein, Stanford

    Thanks for a great talk. Would you mind commenting on the recent research outlining the importance of the AVP V1a receptor system and also the lack of OXTR in rhesus monkeys from Larry Young’s group?

  • Michael Saxe, Hoffmann-La Roche

    In the context of discussions about whether social behaviors that characterize autism involve a reduced reward associated with social interaction rather than an aversive or anxious response to it, what are the evidence that the social place preference task you used is not in fact driven by an aversion to the isolation-paired cue? In this case the task would rather be isolation-conditioned place preference, and is likely to involve different associated systems than if it is in fact a reward-based task.


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