Chahrour Lab

Interrogating the genome to better understand the mechanisms causing autism spectrum disorder and other neurodevelopmental disorders and inform innovative therapies Start Here
Research and Mission
Our overall interest is to understand the molecular mechanisms underlying autism spectrum disorder and other neurodevelopmental disorders. We focus on identifying disease genes, understanding how they lead to neuronal dysfunction, and mapping the impacted pathways to inform the development of targeted therapies.
Gene discovery in
autism spectrum disorder (ASD)

We apply whole exome and genome sequencing and other approaches like forward genetics to identify pathogenic variants that underlie ASD and other neurodevelopmental disorders

Mechanisms of rare neurodevelopmental disorders

We leverage animal models to dissect the pathways in which genes normally function, and characterize the molecular mechanisms leading to the phenotypes exhibited in these conditions

Informing discovery
of innovative therapies

Our work informs the discovery of diagnostic biomarkers and therapeutic targets for people living with neurodevelopmental disorders

Lab Members

Maria Chahrour, Ph.D.
Principal Investigator

Maria obtained her undergraduate degree in Biology from the American University of Beirut prior to attending the University of North Texas for an M.S. in Forensic Genetics and Baylor College of Medicine for a Ph.D. in Molecular and Human Genetics. She then joined Harvard Medical School and Boston Children's Hospital as a postdoctoral fellow and later as an instructor in the Division of Genetics and Genomics. Maria joined the faculty at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in 2015, and she is currently a tenured Associate Professor at the Eugene McDermott Center for Human Growth and Development, the Departments of Neuroscience and Psychiatry, the Center for the Genetics of Host Defense, and the Peter O’Donnell Jr. Brain Institute. Maria resides in Dallas with her husband and two sons.

Dr. Chahrour on ResearchGate, LinkedIn, Twitter.
Kiran Kaur, Ph.D.
Senior Research Scientist

Kiran obtained her bachelor’s degree in Biology from Blackburn College, master’s degree in Biochemistry from the University of Kentucky, and Ph.D. in Biological Sciences from Southern Methodist University. In graduate school, Kiran studied calmodulin binding proteins in the Tryapnosoma bruei, the causative agent of African sleeping sickness. She was the coordinator and the instructor for the biotechnology program at El Centro College. In the Chahrour lab, she manages all lab aspects and supports the ongoing research programs.

Lauretta El-Hayek, M.S.
Graduate Student (Genetics, Development, and Disease)

Lauretta obtained her undergraduate degree in Biology and master’s degree in Molecular Biology from the Lebanese American University. During her graduate studies as a master’s student, Lauretta’s work focused on understanding the mechanisms by which physical exercise mediates positive effects on the brain, leading to better learning and memory. She also worked on trying to use metabolites produced during exercise to promote resilience to stress or act as antidepressants. Lauretta is currently focused on studying mechanisms underlying autism spectrum disorder. Lauretta enjoys playing the violin, reading Sherlock Holmes detective stories, and is obsessed with avocados!

Shayal Vashisth
Graduate Student (Neuroscience)

Shayal received her B.S. in Neuroscience from Duke University, where she primarily researched the effects of gradual ovarian decline on the cognitive deficits associated with Alzheimer’s disease. She also studied the potential therapeutic effects of physical exercise in a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease. Now, she is focused on the mechanisms underlying autism spectrum disorder. When she’s not in lab, Shayal enjoys Taekwondo, exploring new recipes, and trying to pet every dog on Katy Trail.

Wei-Chen Chen, M.S.
Graduate Student (Neuroscience)

Wei-Chen obtained her bachelor’s degree in Life Science from the National Central University in Taiwan, where she studied how long-term exposure to polystyrene microplastics, a pervasive, ubiquitous pollutant, affected brain functions. Wei-Chen earned her master’s degree in Biomedical Science from the University of Alabama at Birmingham Heersink School of Medicine, where she started studying the function of genes known to cause autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Wei-Chen continued her interest in ASD and is now focused on studying the molecular mechanisms underlying ASD. Outside the lab, Wei-Chen has two cats and enjoys exploring new foods.

Ariel Aiken, M.S.
Research Assistant

Ariel earned her B.S. in Behavioral Neuroscience from Northeastern University and her M.S. in Developmental and Brain Sciences from the University of Massachusetts Boston. Her master’s work focused on the neuroepigenetics of early life stress and enriched environments. Following this, she joined MIT as a researcher in a lab studying mutations in the Shank family of proteins and their role in autism spectrum disorder (ASD). This led to an interest in the work conducted in the Chahrour lab. Trading New England winters for Texas summers and proximity to family in Dallas, she’s now involved in lab projects focused on identifying and characterizing novel ASD genetic variants. Outside the lab, Ariel enjoys reading, running, yoga, playing guitar, and finding ways to give back to her community.

Ashlesha Gogate, M.S.
Computational Biologist

Ashlesha completed her bachelor’s degree in Engineering from India and master’s degree in Bioinformatics from Georgia Tech. During graduate school, she studied the consequences of excessive ribonucleotide incorporation in DNA, which leads to a disorder named Aicardi-Goutières syndrome. She also worked briefly on Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease in a drug discovery startup focused on neurodegenerative diseases. She is now involved in projects focused on autism spectrum disorder, analyzing different types of sequencing data in the Chahrour lab. Ashlesha enjoys cooking, hiking, and is a dog aunt to her favorite - Mowgli!

Join Us

We are always looking for enthusiastic graduate students, postdocs, and technicians. To apply, please email Dr. Chahrour a CV, cover letter briefly describing previous research experience, and contact information for three references.

Lab Alumni

Join Our Studies

Our lab studies the genetics of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). We hope that by finding the genes responsible for ASD, we can better understand the processes that are disrupted in ASD as well as how these genes function in normal brain development.

Adults and children with ASD, and their family members, are invited to participate in our research. We are able to enroll interested individuals and families from around the world. Please contact us for more details on participation:

Call us at 214-648-7389
Email us at: AutismGenetics[at]utsouthwestern[dot]edu

Study brochures:
Autism Spectrum Disorder Study (English)
Estudio del trastorno del espectro autista (Español)

Autism Society of America
Autism Speaks

The links to other websites on this page and their content are not meant to replace consultation with a healthcare provider and do not represent expressed endorsement of their organizations or the accuracy of their subject matter.
Chahrour Lab

McDermott Center for Human Growth and Development
University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center
6000 Harry Hines Boulevard
Simmons Biomedical Research Building
Dallas, TX 75390-8591

Phone: 214-648-7389 (lab)
214-648-1600 (admin)
214-648-6523 (office)

Email: maria[dot]chahrour[at]utsouthwestern[dot]edu