Autism Research: December 12, 2014 Week in Review


Short sessions of learning build memory in individuals with Fragile X Syndrome

Scientists from the University of California, Irvine conducted extensive studies on individuals with Fragile X Syndrome to identify ways to improve learning techniques. The team of neurobiologists lead by Christine Gall and Gary Lynch found that the brain’s capacity to form and retain memories can be strengthened and help in overcoming cognitive disabilities that are a hallmark of the individuals suffering from the condition. the team found that short but repetitive bursts of learning lead to greater retention and recall in mice with a fragile X model than mice trained in the current education practice followed in schools i.e. K-12. Fragile X syndrome is a major cause of autism in individuals and the discovery might help improvise teaching techniques built for children with autism. The findings appear in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Ronald R. Seese, Kathleen Wang, Yue Qin Yao, Gary Lynch, Christine M. Gall. Spaced training rescues memory and ERK1/2 signaling in fragile X syndrome model mice. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2014; 111 (47): 16907 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1413335111

Brain’s Insula now associated with autism

In the constant endeavor to get answers to source of autism, scientists from the University of Miami College of Arts and Sciences have identified a region of the brain called as the Insula as a potential reason for the dysfunction. The insula is responsible for identifying and picking things that are important for an individual from his environment, simply put prioritization. The findings published by Lucina Uddin and her team appeared this week in the prestigious Nature Reviews Neuroscience. The team found that a dysfunctional insula lead to symptoms characteristic of conditions like dementia, autism and psychosis. The team suspects that the symptoms could be tracked down to exact sub-regions of the insula with deeper research and help develop targeted therapies for the same.

Lucina Q. Uddin. Salience processing and insular cortical function and dysfunction. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 2014; DOI: 10.1038/nrn3857

Pre-eclampsia in expectant mothers linked to higher autism risk

The University of California, Davis, MIND Institute is always at the forefront of autism research and has now added another finding to the ever growing database of suspected risk factors. The scientists there, lead by Cheryl Walker, have identified pre-eclampsia in expectant moms as factor that might increase the risk of autism spectrum disorders by more than 2 folds. Pre-eclampsia is a form of high blood pressure experienced during pregnancy characterized by fluid retention, elevated protein levels in the urine along with the elevated blood pressure. The findings have been published in JAMA Pediatrics this week and call for greater precaution in pregnancy to prevent and identify pre-eclampsia. Pre-eclampsia can rapidly disintegrate into eclampsia which is characterized by seizures and can be fatal.

Cheryl K. Walker, Paula Krakowiak, Alice Baker, Robin L. Hansen, Sally Ozonoff, Irva Hertz-Picciotto. Preeclampsia, Placental Insufficiency, and Autism Spectrum Disorder or Developmental Delay. JAMA Pediatrics, 2014; DOI: 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2014.2645
Autism may be linked to preeclampsia

Brain inflammation signs now linked to autism at John Hopkins

The prestigious John Hopkins Institute collaborated with the University of Alabama, Birmingham to come up with a radical new association between autism and brain inflammation. The team of neuroscientists lead by Simone Gupta studied 72 autopsied brains, the largest ever yet to study gene expression, to find that a connective tissue cell in the nervous system called the microglial cell was perpetually activated in autism brains. Microglial cells are activated only in cases of inflammation in the brain to help combat it. This heightened activity of the cell highlights the need to untangle the reason for continuous inflammation-like state in the brain. The study’s findings appear in the critical Nature Communications journal this week.

Simone Gupta, Shannon E. Ellis, Foram N. Ashar, Anna Moes, Joel S. Bader, Jianan Zhan, Andrew B. West, Dan E. Arking. Transcriptome analysis reveals dysregulation of innate immune response genes and neuronal activity-dependent genes in autism. Nature Communications, 2014; 5: 5748 DOI: 10.1038/ncomms6748