Autism Research : January 2, 2015 Week in Review

ResearchPets heighten sociability and assertiveness in kids with autism

Every once in a while a new research finding shows a way to actually change the way parents can help their child with autism. As a new year’s gift almost, findings from a research conducted at the University of Missouri-Columbia were released 2 days prior to new year. Led by Gretchen Carlisle, the team of veterinary researchers published that children with autism who were raised in the presence of any kind of pet, not just dogs, had a stronger set of social skills. The mere presence of any pet in the household endowed the children with stronger tendency to engaging in conversations and behaviors like introducing themselves, responding to questions and asking questions. The level of assertiveness too was much greater in these children. The findings of the study have been published in the prestigious Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders this week. Pets often act as a ‘social catalyst’ or ‘social lubricant’ the researchers said, helping initiate conversation with strangers, other children, relatives and guests which eventually translates into better social behavioral skills.

The study gives more reason to parents to get a pet home, a dog or otherwise, in the upcoming year, maybe as a new year’s gift for their children. In the past, numerous studies have shown how dogs help increase bonding for children with disabilities. However, this study showed that any pet will make a child more sociable owing to the living and interactive presence that a pet has.

Reference: Gretchen K. Carlisle. The Social Skills and Attachment to Dogs of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 2014; DOI: 10.1007/s10803-014-2267-7

Genetic molecular network for autism discovered

Numerous genes linked to autism have been identified in the past few years owing to extensive research. Now, researchers have identified a molecular map or network that encompasses many of these previously identified genes proven to play a role in autism spectrum disorders. The findings have been published in the journal Molecular Systems Biology this week. The research was led by Michael Snyder of the Stanford Center for Genomics and Personalized Medicine. The finding is crucial as it gives a road map of sorts unveiling protein interaction which might be precursors to autism. The study’s findings will also help identify new and hitherto unknown genes that might be playing a role in the condition. The technique of genome sequencing was applied to genomes of 25 participating patients and confirmed participation of protein interaction modules that the team had identified to be involved in producing autism. The team also found that the bridge of white matter called corpus callosum that connects the two halves of the brain and oligodendrocyte cells of the brain also make contributions to ASDs.

Snyder said that their study corroborated the findings of many of the newer studies that suggest that disruptions in the bridge, i.e. the corpus callosum, led to interference in the brain’s circuitry. This is probably what leads to the wide spectrum of manifestations that children with autism have. The team hopes to use their modules to identify exact regions of the brain that are affected in autism and put together an exact framework to identify other disease models as well.

Reference: Jingjing Li, Minyi Shi, Zhihai Ma, Shuchun Zhao, et al. Integrated systems analysis reveals a molecular network underlying autism spectrum disorders. Molecular Systems Biology, December 2014 DOI: 10.15252/msb.20145487