Autism Research: August 1, 2014 Week in Review

ResearchPoor eye contact in toddlers might indicate autism

Researchers from the University of Miami have identified a hitherto often suggested warning sign for autism in toddlers. The team of scientists including Devon Gangi said they found that one year olds that showed poor joint attention had a high risk of ASD. Looking at a person matter-of-factly without smiling to communicate to a person interest in some toy was found to be associated with a high probability of autism. The study was published this week in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. The findings are important signs to be checked out in toddlers to identify autism earlier and treat more intensively.

New Enzyme linked to autism

 Researchers from the Riverside branch of University of California have identified association between an enzyme found in the body and autistic behavior. The enzyme MMP-9 has been found to play a crucial role in orchestrating the symptoms manifested by children with Fragile X syndrome, the commonest reason for autism. The scientists have targeted this enzyme for developing future therapies to control severe repetitive behaviors and obsessive compulsive behaviors that are commonly seen with the syndrome. The study that was published this week in Journal of Neuroscience brings to light a new perspective, i.e. the role of enzymes in autism and throws open a new field for research and potential therapeutics.

Gene mutation linked to intellectual disability and autism

 A new study published in the journal Cell Reports has reported that both autism and intellectual disability are linked to mutation in a gene called CC2D1A. Researchers from Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital identified 2 distinct mutations in the said gene that are at least partially responsible for the two disorders- autism, intellectual disability that are both commonly found to occur together in children and have similar symptoms. The study paves new inroads towards genetic therapy as treatment for autism.

Autism affects brain flexibility, study reveals

 Researchers from the prestigious Stanford University Medical Center have revealed that children having autism have brains that are comparatively less flexible at jumping between resting and tasks. The study led by Lucina Uddin was published this week in Cerebral Cortex and was based on findings reported by studying the fMRIs, a brain imaging modality of 34 typical children and 34 children having autism. Although both groups performed equally well on the math and facial recognitions tasks, the fMRIs revealed relative obsession with a topic and inflexibility of the brain in the latter group. The findings might help create targeted therapies that promote brain flexibility.

Brain wiring differences revealed in children with autism

 Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco have identified difference in the sensory processing of children with autism compared to typical children. They found that kids having sensory processing disorders possess lower structural connections in the brain’s sensory regions. The study published this week in PLOS ONE was led by senior author Pratik Mukherjee. The study establishes sensory disorders as significant neurodevelopement disorders that need to be researched and investigated. There is significant overlap between symptoms of autism and sensory processing disorders making them hard to differentiate.