AUTISM RESEARCH CENTRE Section of Developmental Psychiatry at University of Cambridge, England
What is the ARC?

The ARC [Autism Research Centre] is situated within the School of Clinical Medicine in the Department of Psychiatry, Section of Developmental Psychiatry, at the University of Cambridge, England.

It brings together scientists working on autism from around the University of Cambridge and the Clinical School. It also has major collaborations with other universities, and works closely with clinical and advocacy services.

The ARC has over 30 research scientists and support staff, drawn from a range of disciplines (cognitive neuroscience, psychiatry, paediatrics, neonatology, genetics, and biochemistry).

It utilises state-of-the-art technology in these investigations, including functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), event-related potentials (ERPs), amniocentesis, and gaze-tracking.

The ARC is part of the School of Clinical Medicine within Cambridge University, and is partnered with the National Autistic Society (the UK's leading charity for autism) and the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Mental Health NHS Trust (the regional community clinical services for autism).

The ARC receives major funding from the Medical Research Council (UK), the Shirley Foundation, The Big Lottery, and the Three Guineas Trust, among other sponsors.

The Patrons of the ARC are novelist Nick Hornby, musician Jools Holland, actor Daniel Radcliffe and the geneticist James Watson.

Research Projects

The Autism Research Centre (ARC) has seven major research programmes: [Perception and Cognition, Screening and Diagnosis, Intervention, Hormones, Genetics and Proteomics, Neuroscience, and Synaesthesia].

Perception and Cognition

The ARC pioneered psychological research into autism spectrum conditions, developing experimental methods to study difficulties in empathy and strengths in systemizing and attention to detail. Methods used in this program include computerized testing, gaze-tracking, galvanic skin response (GSR), observational coding, and sensory threshold tests.

Screening and Diagnosis

The ARC was the first to develop early screening methods to detect autism at 18 months of age, and test these at a population level, and has gone on to develop related instruments for screening of autism and Asperger Syndrome in childhood, adolescence, and adulthood.


The ARC has developed new educational software for teaching emotion recognition from age 4-adulthood (the Mindreading DVD), and a new children's animation for teaching this skill to preschool age children on the autistic spectrum (The Transporters DVD). Both of these have been carefully evaluated to measure their benefits in comparison to matched control groups. We are also evaluating other interventions that promote empathy by harnessing the strengths in systemizing, such as Lego Therapy.


The ARC has undertaken a unique longitudinal study of the role of foetal testosterone (FT) in child development by studying children whose mothers had amniocentesis during pregnancy. We are now studying if FT plays a role in the risk of developing autism or Asperger Syndrome itself. We are also looking at medical syndromes where FT is abormally high or low, and looking at current testosterone and oestrogen in people with a diagnosis on the autistic spectrum.

Genetics and Proteomics

Autism and Asperger Syndrome are strongly heritable conditions. Whereas most genetics research in this field has used the method of linkage studies, the ARC has pursued association studies of both candidate genes and using genome-wide scans. And whereas most genetics research has focused on classic autism, the ARC has focused on Asperger Syndrome. Our behavioral genetic studies have found an association between strong systemizing (e.g., in fields like mathematics) and number of autistic traits, so we are also pursuing genetic association studies of mathematical ability. Genetic associations are followed up through expression studies.


A wealth of research now establishes that autism spectrum conditions involve altered brain development and functioning. We are studying this using a range of methods including MRI (both structural and functional), ERP, DTI, TMS, developmental neurobiology, and neuropathology.


Synaesthesia, a neurological condition affecting ~1% of the population, is characterised by anomalous sensory perception and associated alterations in cognitive function due to interference from synaesthetic percepts. A stimulus in one sensory modality triggers an automatic, consistent response in either another modality (e.g. sound triggers the perception of colour) or a different aspect of the same modality (e.g. reading black text triggers colour). Familiality studies show evidence of a strong genetic predisposition. In 2009, we published the first genome-wide molecular genetic study of synaesthesia, which identified a number of potential candidate regions for genes involved in the disorder. Our ongoing work focuses on exploring the genetics of synaesthesia and potential connections between synaesthesia and autism spectrum disorders. We have a particular interest in auditory-visual synaesthesia.

ARC Milestones

1985: The theory of mind (ToM) hypothesis of autism
1987: Pretend play deficits demonstrated
1988: Pragmatic impairment demonstrated
1989: The specific developmental delay hypothesis of autism
1989: Joint-attention recognized as a key developmental precursor to ToM

1992: Lowering the age of diagnosis of autism to 18 months old in baby sibs using
the Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (CHAT)
1992: Gaze-direction as a cue to ToM identified
1993: Understanding Other Minds (OUP)
1994: The orbito-frontal cortex (OFC) theory of the brain basis of ToM in autism

1995: Mindblindness (MIT Press).
1996: Population study of the CHAT
1997: The extreme male brain (EMB) theory of autism
1997: Teaching children with autism to mind-read (Wiley).
1997: The broader autism phenotype identified in parents
1997: Autism linked to parents or siblings who are high systemizers
1997: The Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test
1998: Superior attention to detail in autism demonstrated
1999: Establishing the rate of Tourette Syndrome in autism
1999: The amygdala theory of the brain basis of ToM in autism
1999: Reliability of early diagnosis of autism established

2000: Establishment of the Cambridge Lifespan Asperger Syndrome Service (CLASS)
2000: Neonatal sex differences in social interest
2001: Dimensionalizing autistic traits on the Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ)
2001: Linking mathematical talent to AQ
2001: Prevalence of Asperger Syndrome in childhood reported as 1 in 166.
2001: Understanding Other Minds-Second edition (OUP)
2001: The Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test - Revised
2002: The prenatal testosterone theory of autism
2002: The empathizing-systemizing (E-S) theory of sex differences
2002: Linking foetal testosterone (FT) to eye-contact and vocabulary development
2002: The extreme male brain (EMB) theory of autism
2003: Mind Reading DVD for teaching emotion recognition (
2003: The Empathy Quotient (EQ) and Systemizing Quotient (SQ)
2003: The Essential Difference (Penguin)
2003: Amygdala lesions impair ToM demonstrated
2004: Prenatal Testosterone in Mind (MIT Press)

2005: The EMB theory at the biological level (Science)
2005: Linking FT to social development and narrow interests
2005: Dysconnectivity with amygdala in autism demonstrated
2005: Development of a diagnostic method for adults with Asperger Syndrome
(Adult Asperger Assessment (AAA)
2006: The Assortative Mating/hyper-systemizing theory of autism
2006: The broader autism phenotype in parents using fMRI
2006: Role of Cannabinoid Receptor Gene (CNR1) in emotion perception and neural activity
2006: Linking FT to empathy and systemizing
2006: Benefits of emotion recognition training demonstrated
2006: The Adolescent AQ
2007: The Transporters (DVD) (

Frequently Asked Questions
[Visit the ARC website to view these pulldown menu FAQs].

ARC People:

Principal Investigators/Collaborators in Cambridge
Professor Simon Baron-Cohen
Professor Ian Goodyer
Dr Sabine Bahn
Director of Proteomics and Metabonomics
Professor Carol Brayne
Director of Epidemiological and Screening Studies
Professor Ed Bullmore
Director of the Centre for Psychiatric Neuroimaging
Dr Andrew Dean
Consultant Neuropathologist
Dr Frank Dudbridge
Statistical Geneticist, MRC Biostatistics Unit
Dr Gerald Hackett
Consultant in Foetal Medicine
Dr Rick Livesey
Head of Developmental Neurobiology
Professor Melissa Hines
Hormones and Behaviour, Cambridge University
Professor Ieuan Hughes
Director of Paediatric Endocrinology
Dr Ayla Humphrey
Consultant Clinical Psychologist
Dr Kate Plaisted
Laboratory for Autism Research (LaRA)
Dr Howard Ring
Director of ERP Research
Dr Michael Spencer
MRC Clinician Scientist Fellow
Dr Kevin Taylor
Director of Endocrine Laboratory

Principal Investigators/Collaborators outside Cambridge
Dr Sharmila Banerjee Basu
Director of Bioinformatics
Professor Patrick Bolton
Institute of Psychiatry
Professor Tony Charman
Institute of Child Health
Professor Ian Craig
Director of Molecular Psychiatric Genetics
Professor Mark Johnson
Director of Infant ERP Lab
Professor Declan Murphy
Institute of Psychiatry
Professor Robert Plomin
Institute of Psychiatry

Senior Research Associates in Cambridge
Dr Carrie Allison
Research Manager
Dr Bonnie Auyeung
Research Manager
Dr Gina Gómez de la Cuesta (Gina Owens)
Dr Fiona Matthews
Dr Greg Pasco
Dr John Suckling

Senior Research Associates outside Cambridge
Dr Julian Asher
Imperial College, London
Dr Chris Ashwin
Bath University
Dr Emma Ashwin (Emma Chapman)
Bath University
Dr Malcolm Bang
Aarhus University and the Serum Institute, Denmark
Professor Matthew Belmonte
Cornell University, USA
Dr Bhismadev Chakrabarti
Reading University
Dr Ofer Golan
Bar Ilan University, Israel
Dr Marie Gomot
INSERM, Tours, France
Dr Rosa Hoekstra
The Open University
Dr Rebecca Knickmeyer
Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA
Dr John Lawson
Oxford Brooke's University
Dr Ilaria Minio Paluello
La Sapienza, Rome, Italy
Dr Angelica Ronald
Birkbeck College London
Liliana Ruta
University of Catania
Sally Wheelwright

Research Associates
Rosie Holt
Amber Ruigrok

Doctoral and Masters Level Scientists
Lindsay Chura
Owen Churches
Erin Ingudomnukul
Dr Meng-Chuan Lai
Mike Lombardo
Caroline Robertson
Edward Sucksmith
Jillian Sullivan
Teresa Tavassoli
Sophia Xiang Sun

Alumni/Recent Graduates
Carrie Allison
Dr Julian Asher
Dr Chris Ashwin
Dr Emma Ashwin
Dr Bonnie Auyeung
Jennifer Barnes
Dr Jaclyn Billington
Jon Briedbord
Dr Bhismadev Chakrabarti
Professor Tony Charman
Dr Jaime Craig
Cara Damiano
Dr Ofer Golan
Gina Gómez de la Cuesta
Rick Griffin
Dr Therese Jolliffe
Rebecca Jones
Jorrit de Kieviet
Dr Rebecca Knickmeyer
Dr John Lawson
Dr Svetlana Lutchmaya
Dr Uma Mallya
Dr Michelle O'Riordan
Dr Wendy Phillips
Dr Fiona Scott
Dr Jo Williams
Dr Marc Woodbury-Smith

Past Research Associates
Kimberly Peabody
Vanessa Putz
Neguine Rezaii
Martine Roelfsema
Susan Sadek
Renate van de Ven
Ben Weiner

Visitors Past and Present
Professor Digby Tantam
University of Sheffield
Professor Akio Wakabayashi
Chiba University, Japan

Clinical Staff
Dr Stefan Gleeson
Paula Naimi
CLASS Secretary
Dr Janine Robinson
Professor Simon Baron-Cohen

Gaenor Moore
Senior ARC Administrator
Rachel Jackson
Research Administrator
John Cromie

Patrons and Friends
Lucy Hawking
Friends of the ARC
Jools Holland
Nick Hornby
Daniel Radcliffe
Professor James Watson

How to Contact Us:

The ARC is located in Cambridge at the following address:

Autism Research Centre,
Section of Developmental Psychiatry,
University of Cambridge,
Douglas House,
18b Trumpington Road,
CB2 8AH,

Tel: 01223-746057
FAX: 01223-746033

email: Gaenor Moore (ARC Administrator)

Have a question for us?

It's worth having a look at our Frequently Asked Questions [see website] before contacting us.
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