ERC project: Brain2Bee

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Brain2Bee: How dopamine affects social and

motor ability – from the human brain to the honey bee

January 2018 – January 2023 (ERC starting grant funded)

 

Portrayals of autistic people in the media often focus on difficulties with communicating and socialising. In contrast portrayals of individuals with Parkinson’s Disease tend to focus on motor difficulties. The co-occurrence of social and motor symptoms is thus critically underappreciated; Parkinson’s Disease patients exhibit social symptoms, and motor challenges (e.g. with handwriting or, perhaps, riding a bike) have been associated with Autism. At present, the biological basis of co-occurring social and motor challenges is unclear. The neuromodulator dopamine has been linked to both social and motor ability in neurotypical individuals. The aim of the Brain2Bee project is to unpack the relationship between dopamine, social and motor function, in order to shed light on the biological basis of co-occurring social and motor challenges.

pharmaPsychopharmacology: Brain2Bee will use psychopharmacology in a neurotypical population to develop a model of the relationship between Dopamine, Motor, and Social behaviour – the “DAMS” model.

 

genesGenes: Brain2Bee will use genetic analysis to refine DAMS, elucidating the contributions of dopamine-related biological processes (e.g. synthesis, receptor expression, reuptake). Brain2Bee will then test DAMS’ predictions in patients with Parkinson’s Disease and Autism. Thus clarifying whether, for example, dopamine-related genes confer risk for the development of social and motor difficulties in Parkinson’s Disease.

 

beeHoney Bees: Brain2Bee will investigate whether DAMS generalises to an animal model, the honey bee, enabling future research to unpack the cascade of biological events linking dopamine-related genes with social and motor behaviour.

 

PDAutism and Parkinson’s Disease: Both Autism and Parkinson’s Disease have been associated with differences in the functioning of the dopamine system. Brain2Bee will help us to understand whether these differences in the way the dopamine system functions are linked to social and motor abilities in individuals with Autism or Parkinson’s Disease.