Carnegie Mellon University
November 07, 2022

Biology Professor Receives Grant for Autism Research

By Kirsten Heuring

Jocelyn Duffy
  • Associate Dean for Communications, MCS
  • 412-268-9982

Kate Hong, an assistant professor of biological sciences and a member of Carnegie Mellon University's Neuroscience Institute, has received a Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI) grant for research into the interaction between sensory processing and decision-making in individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

"The vast majority of individuals diagnosed with ASD exhibit altered sensory abnormalities," Hong said. "The inability to tune out repeated stimuli, such as the ticking of a clock, or the continued awareness of sensing a textured shirt on the skin, can be overwhelming for some individuals with ASD."

Hong said that the critical importance of affective touch in social bonding early in development and dysfunctions in tactile processing may contribute to more severe aspects of autism-related social phenotypes.

"Thus, understanding the causes of somatosensory deficits is imperative to understanding the etiology of the disorder and its symptoms," she said.

Hong's research is primarily focused on interactions between cortical and subcortical areas for sensory processing. Generally, cortical areas are thought to mediate conscious perception while subcortical brain areas, such as the superior colliculus, mediate rapid responses to important stimuli in the environment.

Hong will use the award to conduct pilot studies that seek to determine whether tactile abnormalities in animal models of autism are associated with aberrant sensory processing between the cortex and midbrain superior colliculus.

"The pilot award offers the opportunity for us to delve into the study of autism, which we hope will open entirely new research directions for the lab and to the broader autism research community," Hong said.