In the Hoffman lab, our goal is to understand the basic biological mechanisms underlying neurodevelopmental disorders, in particular autism spectrum disorders (ASD). To do this, we study the function of genes that are strongly associated with autism in humans to determine how disruption of these genes alters brain development and the neural circuits underlying simple behaviors.
We use zebrafish as a model, given three main advantages of this system: First, zebrafish have external fertilization and development, and transparent embryos, allowing us to observe nervous system development in vivo.Second, zebrafish have large progenies and their larvae are small and highly tractable, which allows us to conduct high-throughput behavioral assays and pharmacological screens. Third, with the availability of novel gene editing techniques, we can now target many genes of interest in zebrafish relatively rapidly.
Using these technologies, we have generated multiple zebrafish mutants in genes that are strongly associated with autism risk, which we are currently studying with the aim of elucidating common biological mechanisms involving these genes with relevance to ASD. Our long-term goal is to use this gene-based approach to identify relevant biological pathways and novel pharmacological treatments that target these pathways.
The Hoffman lab is led by Dr. Ellen Hoffman, Assistant Professor in the Child Study Center.