Autism Research: August 29,2014 Week In Review


Genetic change identified in autism-linked gene

Researchers from the Bradley Hospital have identified a change in the gene which has been known to influence autism outcomes. The findings that were published this week in the Journal of Medical Genetics give new insight into possible causes of autism spectrum disorders. The study was led by Dr. Eric Morrow and identified a change in the gene called ADNP (Activity-Dependent Neuroprotective Protein). The team learnt that a boy diagnosed with autism and a girl with developmental delay both had changes in the ADNP gene, implying its vital role in development of the child’s brain. The findings throw light on the importance of the gene as a marker for autism risk. Also, the study was an excellent example of how genomics could help identify and eventually treat autism spectrum disorders.

Maternal Antidepressant use and autism risk not associated, study points

A brand new study from the prestigious Massachusetts General Hospital has reported that maternal antidepressant use during pregnancy might be associated with an increased risk for autism. The findings published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry this week were reported by Dr. Roy Perlis and his team.The team however delved deeper into the statistics and found that given the severity of maternal depression, the risk did not remain significant enough to raise alarm as the anti-depressants were indispensable. However, the team noticed that despite the severity of depression, the risk for another developmental disorder called ADHD increased. The researchers pointed out that the depression if not treated adequately would itself pose more risks to both the mother and the baby.

Scientists Create Algorithm to Detect Gene Mutations

A group of scientists at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (SCHL) have created an algorithm that can detect mutations in genes associated with conditions such as autism or obsessive-compulsive disorder. The algorithm, named Scalpel, works by grouping together all of the sequences from a given genomic region and then creating a new sequence alignment for that area.  More can be read here from Autism Daily Newscast.

Robots help autism kids with personalized prompts

Research aims at not just finding new causes, but also new solutions. In that vein, researchers from the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, led by Maja Mataric, have shared their findings of studies conducted with their humanoid robots that helped autism kids learn imitating behaviors to encourage autonomy. The findings were shared this week at the 23rd IEEE International Symposium on Robot and Human Interactive Communication (RO-MAN) held at Edinburgh. The team used graded cueing which is often used in occupational therapy to help learn social behaviors. With personalized prompts for each child in the study with the robots, the children improved at mimicking social behaviors while the control group regressed. These findings might help introduce robots in mainstream for kids with autism to help improve social interactions.

Head size not linked with autism risk, new study observes

For long now, researchers have been talking about how head size of an infant and autism risk have a strong connection. However, a new study conducted on a far larger scale has now busted that connection. The study that collected data on 700 children from across USA and Canada found no such link that might suggest that a large head of an infant might predict autism risk. The findings were published in Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. The study was led by Dr. Gregory Young and his team.

Autistic Brains Have Too Many Synapses

As reported earlier this week by Autism Daily Newscast and briefly covered in last week’s review, The researchers from Columbia University Medical Center compared brain tissue from subjects ages 2 to 20, who had died at an early age. About half of the subjects had been diagnosed with autism. The researchers focused on an area of the brain’s temporal lobe involved in social behavior and communication. They found that the brains of children with autism had significantly more synapses than those of children without the diagnosis. This difference was more pronounced in the brains of older children and adolescents.