Autism Research: August 22, 2014 Week in Review

ResearchTwo decades and going steady: study reports on autism prevalence

Numerous guidelines and criteria have changed in the last two decades since the autism boom. When researchers from University of Queensland decided to study how autism rates are faring, they found the rates have been steady i.e. neither increasing nor reducing for the past two whole decades. The shocking results that countered every study that said that autism incidence had increased. The study was led by Dr. Amanda Baxter from the Queensland Center for Mental Health Research. The team analyzed data from 1990 up to 2010. The largest of its kind study was published this week in Psychological Medicine. The study was a collaborative effort between University of Leicester and University of Washington. The results suggested that the changing criteria and stricter guidelines have led to better diagnoses of heretofore undiagnosed people without an actual increase in the incidence.

Patchy brain frontal lobe associated with autism, new study suggests

The University of California San Diego has been a forerunner in the race of autism research and has come up with yet another path breaking finding. The team of researchers headed by Eric Courchesne and Rich Stoner found that areas of the frontal lobe of the brain had ‘messy patches’. The study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that in children having autism, development of the layers of the brain was flawed leading to the hallmark symptoms of poor social interaction and language skills. The researchers hope to find stronger evidence that links the pregnancy’s second and third trimesters to autism so that better prevention strategies can be put in place for expectant moms.

Plural synapses in autism brain might be prune-able with new drug

A new team of researchers from the Columbia University Medical Center have found that brains of children with autism have surplus synapses or neural connections, simply put. These excess synapses are thought to be the reason for autism’s hallmark symptoms and researchers have now found that there is inadequate ‘pruning’ during brain development leading to autism. The study published this week in leading journal Neuron was led by Dr. David Sulzer and suggested a new drug, rapamycin, which might promote the normal synapse reduction to maintain brain functions. Rapamycin has side effects that make its usage a concern but researchers are working towards a better drug to help people with autism.

Hidden gene landscape revealed

 Researchers from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory have developed a new method for analyzing genomes to pinpoint gene additions, mutations and deletions. The study published this week in Nature Methods was headed by Mike Schatz and others. The team found out that these pinpoint genomic alterations could give a microscopic view of the exact cause of diseases like autism, Tourette syndrome and even Obsessive compulsive disorder. These ‘indels’ can make a dramatic difference in the biology of a person. The scientists are hoping that their tools will be able to help other researchers make greater discoveries regarding multiple diseases that are yet a mystery to modern medicine.