Autism Research: January 3, 2014 Week In Review

adn-icon-298x300 Fruit flies and autism

 Scientists are constantly probing nature for answers to existing problems of mankind. This time they ended up probing the fruit fly to get answers for autism. Insects especially fruit flies are known to be extremely sensitive to odors. So, scientists decided to study their “volume-control system” to understand the sensory overload that children with autism seem to have in the presence of bright lights or loud noises or a change in their environment.

Wilson, a neurobiologist from Harvard, discovered special circuits in brains of genetically manipulated fruit flies that are akin to the accelerator and brakes fitted in our cars. She found that when there are mild odors, the brain pumps-up the circuits, making them extra-sensitive while doing the reverse in presence of strong odors. This gives a faint understanding of how our brains react to various sensory inputs, but how and why an autistic child’s brain doesn’t deal with sensations in the exact same manner is another ballgame altogether. The research does pave a new path to tread on for future research and better treatments.

Prenatal maternal weight gain and ASD link discovered

 A new study published in the prestigious journal Pediatrics has uncovered a link between autism spectrum disorders and weight gain during pregnancy. The study lead by Deborah Bilder was conducted at the University of Utah. The author said that the weight gain is not the cause of the ASD but might be a mirror of underlying problems that might be causing ASD like inflammatory processes etc. a small yet consistent observation through the study was the weight gain pattern of pregnant mothers who bore children that were later diagnosed with ASD. The mother’s Body Mass Index (BMI) at the beginning of the first trimester of pregnancy was not found to have any correlation with ASD in either of the two groups of children and mothers studied for the paper.  The study should not prompt expecting moms to start dieting during pregnancy is the author’s only concern.

 Genetic Trio Analysis for Autism Gene study

 Researchers from the Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) and University of Washington, Seattle have discovered the use of Trio analysis to reduce issues that arise while studying human diseases linked with genetic variations. The trio analysis involves the use of a certain “transmission disequilibrium test” to reduce biases.

The test studies the genomes of the individual with the disease under consideration and genomes of the parents’ as well. The analysis finds genetic links when 2 traits are present but occur too frequent to be possible due to chance in a pre-determined population. Dr. Leal of BCM pointed out that using this type of analysis, false associations that occur during studies can be avoided. The team identified variants of the gene ABCA7 that might be associated with autism. Some variants of this gene have even been linked with Alzheimer’s in the past. The research opens a new door for prevention and treatment of disorders like autism as it now gives a connecting link between neurodevelopmental disorders like autism and neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s disease.

 

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