Anti-parasitic drug reverses autism-like manifestations of Fragile X syndrome
Researchers from the University of California – San Diego have uncovered a hitherto unthought-of use of a century-old drug that has been used to kill a parasite that causes sleeping sickness or trypanosomiasis. The study published in Molecular Autism by the team led by Robert Naviaux is a breakthrough in not just the field of autism, but in medical science in general. The drug, suramin, is an anti-purinergic, i.e. it acts by blocking a cell’s response to danger, allowing them to return back to normal networking and communications. This is how it reversed the symptoms of ASD in people with Fragile X Syndrome, which leads to reduced communication amidst brain cells, producing the tell tale symptoms of autism.
Journal Reference: Jane C Naviaux, Lin Wang, Kefeng Li, A Taylor Bright, William A Alaynick, Kenneth R Williams, Susan B Powell and Robert K Naviaux. Antipurinergic therapy corrects the autism-like features in the fragile X (Fmr1 knockout) mouse model. Molecular Autism, 2015 DOI: 10.1186/2040-2392-6-1
Audio visual therapy improves social skills in babies with autism risk
While most researches focus on what is the cause of autism or what can be done to improve it, few focus on what can be done to prevent it in babies who are already at a high risk of being diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. A new study conducted at the University of Manchester, UK found that audio-video based feedback therapies helped parents understand needs of their infants better and thus respond better. This improved the social behavior and the infant’s attention and engagement. The team led by Jonathan Green hypothesizes that this might reduce the risk of such an infant developing autism. The findings have been published this week in the prestigious The Lancet Psychiatry. The researchers used a specially customized Video Interaction for Promoting Positive Parenting Programme (iBASIS-VIPP) to show to infants with a high risk of developing ASD, between 7 and 10 months of age, over a span of 5 months. These infants had an elder sibling with autism putting them at a higher risk. At the end of 5 months, the infants as well as their families showed significant improvements in all the measured social parameters.
Reference: Parent-mediated intervention versus no intervention for infants at high risk of autism: a parallel, single-blind, randomised trial. Green, Jonathan et al. The Lancet Psychiatry.
Excessive synapse formation leads to sensory disruptions in autism, study finds
A new study from Dartmouth has found that it is not the inadequate ‘pruning’ that leads to the sensory overload that children with autism experience, but the result of formation of excessive new neural connections. The team of neurobiologists lead by author Bryan Luikart found that mutations in the gene Pten lead to altered neural and brain development which probably leads to the sensory disturbances and hypersensitivity in new environments that autism produces. The findings of the study were published this week in The Journal of Neuroscience.
Reference: Michael R. Williams, Tyrone DeSpenza Jr, Meijie Li, Allan T. Gulledge, and Bryan W. Luikart. Hyperactivity of Newborn Pten Knock-out Neurons Results from Increased Excitatory Synaptic Drive. The Journal of Neuroscience. 21 January 2015, 35(3): 943-959.
Shared genetic pathways for autism and other psychiatric disorders discovered
Researcher Nancy Buccola and her team published their findings on the underlying shared pathways between schizophrenia, autism, depression and other psychiatric conditions. The study was published in the peer-reviewed Nature Neuroscience this week and was part of a large global collaboration called Psychiatric Genomics Consortium (PGC). They found multiple commonalities between multiple psychiatric disorders as regards immunity, biological pathways and altered biological processes that affected expression of genes. The study was conducted at the LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans.
Reference: Avital Hahamy, Marlene Behrmann & Rafael Malach.The idiosyncratic brain: distortion of spontaneous connectivity patterns in autism spectrum disorder. Nature Neuroscience (2015) doi:10.1038/nn.3919. Received 07 May 2014 Accepted 10 December 2014. Published online 19 January 2015.