Autism Research: June 14, 2014 Week in Review

Research(Updated June 16, 2014)

Cost of autism was more than that of cancer, strokes and heart disease

Lifetime costs for supporting a person with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and learning disability (intellectual disability) can top £1.5 million in the United Kingdom (UK) or $2.4 million in the United States (US) according to new research jointly published by researchers at the London School of Economics and Political Science and The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Autism alone costs the UK economy £32bn a year and this is more than any other medical condition. Autism Daily Newscast reported the story here and our health reporter, Dr Paul Whiteley has written his own comment about the findings that can be read here.

New genetic mutation discovery to explain neuropsychiatric disorders

Researchers from the Monash University have stumbled upon a genetic mutation that might well explain autism and many other disorders of the brain like intellectual disability. The study led by Dr. Julian Heng, Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute of the Monash University and was published in the journal Human Molecular Genetics this week. The study has found that gene TUBB5 is necessary for optimal functioning of the brain and its absence can lead to faulty neuronal wiring in the brain. This neural disruption leads to faulty receiving and sending of messages between the body and the brain. The gene that works like scaffolding of the brain helps other neurons to form connections with other neurons, making it essentially indispensable. Researchers are hopeful that it might help understand how autism and other disorders occur. It might pave the way towards more targeted therapies in the future.

Brain wiring demystified, study reveals

A researcher from the VIB- Flanders Institute for Biotechnology has managed to unravel the first step towards understanding the greatest biological riddle- the human brain wiring. Scientist Dietmar Schmucker has published an article in the prestigious journal Science explaining his experiments with the fruit fly that helped him and his team identify the Dscam 1 protein. Neurons can reproduce many different forms of this very protein, called as isoforms. Specific sets of isoform proteins help neurons develop their individual identity and decide which neurons to form new connections with and which neurons to reject. This new research that identified Dscam 1 in the fruit fly throws light on the complex interactions between neurons that occur in the brain and open a new door for researching isoforms in humans. Possibly, malfunctioning of these isoforms could be the reason why disorders like autism occur. Stem cell therapies could then be developed to acknowledge this problem.

Autism Speaks Partners with Google to Make World’s Largest Autism Database

As reported earlier this week in Autism Daily Newscast, Google is teaming up with Autism Speaks to develop the world’s largest database of genomic sequence information on individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and their family members. The collaboration represents a significant milestone in advancing genomic research of the disorder, and could lead to breakthroughs into the causes, subtypes and better diagnosis and treatment for ASD.

Number of children being prescribed with potentially harmful antipsychotic drugs has more than doubled since 2008

A report by the Australian federal government’s Drug Utilisation Subcommittee says the growing prescription of these drugs is

“concerning given the potential harms associated with the use of antipsychotics even at low doses. Of particular concern is the increasing use in younger patients.”

the report says. More than 2,000 patients under the age of nine, and 110 children under age four, have been prescribed antipsychotic drugs approved to treat autism, schizophrenia and acute mania. This is even though some of the medicines are not approved for use in children this young. Overall, more than 12,000 people under the age of 19 were reported to be using antipsychotics in October of 2012 alone.

New enzyme pathway identified; might help understand neuropsychiatric conditions

Published in The Journal of Neuroscience,  researcher Eric Tucker and his team from the West Virginia University of Health Sciences have identified a new enzyme pathway termed as the c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) signaling pathway, that might help unravel how the brain and the highest controlling centre, the cerebral cortex functions. Studying mouse brains, the researchers identified how the pathway played a vital role as regulator in directing movement of the interneurons of the cerebral cortex of the brain.  The pathway literally acts as a traffic signal, and when its signaling gets impaired, the interneurons that migrate from one part of the cerebral cortex to other, lose their path and cannot successfully reach their destination, landing up in wrong places.

Although, the researchers have studied this in mice brains, they are hopeful that it will translate into larger research that could help understand how conditions like autism and schizophrenia occur. The research shows how interneurons play an extremely essential role in regulating brain function and how their dysfunction can lead to serious conditions like epilepsy, autism, etc. The research might help create targeted diagnostic tools and therapies for the said neurodevelopmental conditions.

Recent research may support benefits of a gluten- and casein-free (GFCF) diet for autism

New research by Malav Trivedi and colleagues found compounds derived from cow’s milk may have a similar ability to the analgesic morphine to alter important biochemical processes implicated in autism including those affecting gene function. The results from Trivedi and colleagues offer an alternative explanation for how foods containing casein may be implicated in other processes previously reported as being present in cases of autism. For a more in-depth analysis read our own Dr Paul Whiteley post here.