Lawrence Reiter, PhD, of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) will use a $108,000 grant from the Foundation for Prader-Willi Research to find gene expression changes in the nerve cells of individuals with Prader-Willi syndrome (PWS), both with and without autism. His work could identify therapeutic targets for treatment of the syndrome and of autism in the future.
Reiter’s laboratory uses stem cells extracted from the dental pulp of primary or “baby” teeth to make nerve cells. He uses these nerves to study syndromes related to autism such as 15q Duplication syndrome, where an extra chromosome leads to developmental disabilities, and Angelman syndrome, which often is misdiagnosed as autism or cerebral palsy and causes developmental delays, seizures, and other problems.
PWS is the leading genetic cause of childhood obesity and is known to cause intellectual disabilities. The foundation supports research into treatments and an eventual cure for PWS. It will distribute funds to Reiter for his project, “Gene Expression Analysis in PWS Subject Derived Dental Pulp Stem Cell Neurons,” over a year with the option for renewal.
“The impact of this work will be twofold,” said Reiter, an associate professor of neurology, pediatrics, and anatomy and neurobiology at the UTHSC College of Medicine. “First, we will gain a better understanding of the underlying cause of Prader-Willi Syndrome in neurons, and second, we will broaden our understanding of syndromic forms of autism, which is a major focus of my research efforts.”