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March 2011 - Postdoctoral fellow, Portia McCoy, PhD, has been selected to receive a postdoctoral fellowship from the Autism Science Foundation (ASF) for her work with Associate Professor Ben Philpot, PhD, on the project "Ube3a Requirements for Structural Plasticity of Synapses." The ASF awards both pre- and postdoctoral grants "to student/mentor teams conducting research in autism interventions, early diagnosis, biomarkers, and animal models."
Normal brain development includes the strengthening of some connections between neurons (synapses) and the weakening/elimination of others, based on input from sensory experience. Researchers have found that the mutation, duplication or absence of a gene called UBE3A results in Angelman syndrome and other autism spectrum disorders, but the exact process by which this gene affects synapse formation and elimination is not yet defined. Philpot and McCoy seek to describe more clearly the role of UBE3A in synapse formation and function.