Autism Research: 2nd October, 2015 Week in Review

ResearchAnalysis reveals 65 autism genes

In a largest ever study of its kind, scientists from University of California, San Francisco have identified 65 genes that essay a role in autism spectrum disorders. The team led by Stephan Sanders sad that 28 of these were very high risk having a 99% certainty in contributing towards developing ASD. The study also found 6 risk segments on chromosomes containing multiple genes which when added or deleted increased the risk of an ASD. This comprehensive analysis of human genomes is the largest ever and the findings have been published this week in the prestigious journal Neuron. The 28 high risk genes are either related to synapses i.e interneuron communications sites or to chromatin, which is the DNA protein that expressed genes. Whether these two are same sides of the same coin or two entirely different pathways remains to be known, but with further research finding this key might help us unlock the mystery that is autism.

Journal Reference: Stephan S et al. “Insights into Autism Spectrum Disorder Genomic Architecture and Biology from 71 Risk Loci.” Neuron. 2015 Sept 23; 87 (6): 1215-33. DOI:

New study proves old point: vaccines not linked to autism

Since the paper that alleged that vaccines containing thimerosal as preservative led to autism, decades have passed in trying to erase the memory of this mishap. Yet another new study has found elaborate evidence that thimerosal doesn’t lead to autism and has published its findings in the journal PNAS. This new study targeted 79 infant male rhesus macaques between the ages 0 to 18 months. The researchers gave a group of dozen macaques the vaccination schedule which had maximum dose of thimerosal followed in the 1990s and another dozen got the 2008 schedule which had the largest number of vaccines. Others received saline. Neither the behaviors nor the post mortem brains of the macaques showed any of the tell tale signs of autism like rocking, repetitive behaviors or self-clasping. The findings of this study are yet another feather in the cap of CDC that the recommended schedule is indeed safe for the children.

Donated home videos of autism reveal new secrets

Researchers are forever looking at unexpected avenues to find a new clue to solve an old puzzle. In a similar treasure hunt, researchers from Austria, Medical University of Graz analyzed 314 minutes of home shot video footage of 18 boys from Italy born between 2004 and 2010. The findings, published in the online journal Early Human Development found that the very first signs of ASD appeared around the age of 2, but these disappeared in some children after few months or years. All the infants made normal eye contact and had normal smiling responses irrespective of the diagnosis of autism later on. All the boys were diagnosed with autism between ages 1 and 2 years. 8 of these boys did not show any autism behaviors after the age of 3. These contradictory findings by the researchers prompt to how transient autism might be a diagnosis to reckon with and might change the way autism is perceived and managed entirely.

Journal reference: Early Hum Dev. 2015 Oct;91(10):569-75. doi: 10.1016/j.earlhumdev.2015.07.006. Epub 2015 Jul 31. What do home videos tell us about early motor and socio-communicative behaviours in children with autistic features during the second year of life – An exploratory study. Zappella M, Einspieler C, Bartl-Pokorny KD, Krieber M, Coleman M, Bölte S, Marschik PB.

Theatre based program improves social skills in autism kids, study finds

A new study conducted by researchers at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center has found that theatre based program helped improve the social ability in children with autism significantly. Published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, the study was led by Blythe Corbett. It involved children diagnosed with autism attending a theatre-based program for 10 weeks, for a total of 40 hours. the study stemmed from the belief that acting comes from observing and perceiving and the program aimed to emulate exactly that. Social cognition, communication as well as interaction showed significant improvement in the 30 kids that participated in the study, of which 17 attended theatre and 13 acted as controls.

Journal Reference: Blythe A. Corbett, Alexandra P. Key, Lydia Qualls, Stephanie Fecteau, Cassandra Newsom, Catherine Coke, Paul Yoder. Improvement in Social Competence Using a Randomized Trial of a Theatre Intervention for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 2015; DOI: 10.1007/s10803-015-2600-9