Patch of Light: Trying to Understand a Newly Discovered Autism-Linked Gene

This image, captured by Michael Wells, investigates the location of an autism-linked protein within the brain.

Michael Wells
Feng Laboratory, MIT Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences

In spite of many decades of study, the causes of autism remain poorly understood, and each new study seems to bring more complexity to the picture of the disease’s biology.  Recent genetic analyses, however, have revealed an intriguing clue: some autistic patients carry a mutation in the patched domain-containing (PTCHD1) gene.  Here, MIT researchers try to understand PTCHD1’s normal function in order to better understand its role in the disease.  Their preliminary results suggest PTCHD1 may be expressed in glial cells (shown here), which provide support and protection for neurons in the brain.

Michael Wells tells the story behind his award-winning image.