Autism Research: 27 March, 2015 Week in Review

Research

Blood test for Fragile X Syndrome

Now American Academy of Neurology has published a study suggesting the birth of a simple blood test to identify Fragile X syndrome related disorders in women. The study was published in the journal Neurology this week. Fragile X being the commonest cause for intellectual disability and autism, such a test could mean early identification and early treatment for those who are more likely to have problems later in life. The test will identify a state of pre-mutation in women who are likely to develop depression and anxiety later.

Journal Reference: K. M. Cornish, C. M. Kraan, Q. M. Bui, et al.Novel methylation markers of the dysexecutive-psychiatric phenotype in FMR1 premutation women. Neurology, 2015; DOI: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000001496

Differences in typical and autism brains identified first time ever

For the first time, functional differences between the brains of autistic and non-autistic persons have been isolated using a new method of analyzing MRI scans called Brain Wide Association Analysis (BWAS). The study was conducted at University of Warwick and was led by Prof. Jianfeng Feng. Data from 1134570430 scans were analyzed using the BWAS and over 47,636 individual areas of the brain termed as voxels were covered. A vital difference that the researchers uncovered in the autism model was in the visual cortex of the temporal lobe of the brain having reduced connectivity with the cortex. This region essays an important role in processing facial emotions and thereby social behavior. A part of the parietal lobe too was identified to be dysfunctional in the autism model. With further research the researchers will soon be able to find key differences in all the voxels of the brain and hope to uncover the cause for autism. The study was published in the journal Brain this week.

Journal Reference: Wei Cheng , Edmund T. Rolls , Huaguang Gu , Jie Zhang , Jianfeng Feng. Autism: reduced connectivity between cortical areas involved in face expression, theory of mind, and the sense of self. Brain, 2015 DOI: 10.1093/brain/awv051

Oxytocin levels predict how brain processes social cues; help understand autism

In a new study published by scientists from the University of Virginia, findings suggest that the levels of the ‘love hormone’ oxytocin are higher and lead to greater activity in brain areas responsible for social cognition. The research team was led by Jessica Connelly and James Morris and has strong implications on autism spectrum disorders, as controversies abound the use of oxytocin nasal spray as therapy for autism. The findings were published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience this week. The team of scientists is hopeful to use this information to understand the role of oxytocin in social interaction better and help develop therapies for autism spectrum disorders.

Journal Reference: Katie Lancaster, C. Sue Carter, Hossein Pournajafi-Nazarloo, et al. Plasma oxytocin explains individual differences in neural substrates of social perception. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 2015; 9 DOI: 10.3389/fnhum.2015.00132

Age-specific changes in autistic brains discovered

Researchers from the University of Miami have now identified age-specific changes that occur in brains of people with autism. The study conducted by Lucina Udina and Jason Nomia discovered varying patterns of neural connectivity that differed from those seen in typically developing peers. They also noted that these patterns changed and adjusted as age advanced. They concluded that the age at which changes are observed for autism is extremely critical to predicting treatment response as the patterns change with each passing year. The findings have been published this week in the journal NeuroImage Clinical.

Journal Reference: Jason S. Nomia, Lucina Q. Uddina. Developmental changes in large-scale network connectivity in autism. NeuroImage: Clinical, March 2015

Autism associated with greater GI issue risk early in life

A new study published by a team of researchers from the Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health have found that children on the spectrum are 2.5 times more likely to manifest chronic gastrointestinal symptoms during infancy and as toddlers compared to typically developing children. The study has been published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry this week and was led by Ezra Susser. The GI issues reported ranged from foot allergy, diarrhea to constipation and lactose intolerance, etc.

Journal Reference: Michaeline Bresnahan, Mady Hornig, Andrew F. et al. Association of Maternal Report of Infant and Toddler Gastrointestinal Symptoms With Autism. JAMA Psychiatry, 2015; DOI: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2014.3034