Researchers from the Tufts University have identified how the gene APC (Adenomatous Polyposis Coli) affects critical brain pathways that are linked to learning. The team led by Dr. Michele Jacob found that loss of the gene in mouse models led to behaviors characteristic of autism, like reduced social interaction, repetitive behaviors, impaired memory and learning. The research published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry also details the drastic molecular changes that were observed on deletion of the APC gene in the fore-brain. The team is hopeful of seeing targeted therapies based on the importance of the APC gene that they have discovered for learning disability and even autism.
Age-old drug reverses autism symptoms in mouse models
Often old, time-tested drugs are not exploited to their full potential. In a path-breaking new research, scientists from the University of California, San Diego Health Sciences, found that a century-old drug molecule which has been approved to treat an infectious condition called Sleeping sickness, reversed autism-like symptoms in mice. The drug suramin was tested by Dr. Robert Naviaux and his team on mice to assess its effects on brain purinergic pathways and noticed instant reversal of the metabolic effects and autism-like behaviors of the mice. The study was published in Translational Psychiatry this week. The research raises hope of utilizing this drug for humans with autism but further research is needed before this can be done. For a more extensive analysis of this study, see own Dr Paul Whiteley’s post here
Motor skill limitation could be early signs of autism
A new study published by a team of researchers from the Kennedy Krieger Institute has found evidence for limited development of motor skills in 6 month-old infants having an increased risk of familial association for ASD. The team led by Dr. Rebecca Landa found evidence of reduced grasping skills and fine motor activity in the half a year old babies. The researchers think it might be an endophenotype, i.e. a transferable hereditary trait bearing genetic association with ASD without actually predicting diagnosis fully. The study paves a new path for enabling early ASD diagnosis and better predictability. The findings were published in the journal Child Development.
New model explains brain’s method of ignoring familiar stimuli
A path-breaking new theory suggested by neuroscientist Mani Ramaswami was published this week in Neuron, explaining the process that he has termed as ‘habituation’. He explains in his paper that the brain learns to filter out the important from the unimportant stimuli that it received from its surroundings. The researcher from the Trinity College Dublin explains this complicated phenomenon that has baffled neuroscientists for so long, and helps answer how people with autism are hypersensitive to ‘ complex environments’. He suggests the ‘negative- image model’ which means that neurons that repeatedly get stimulated by a certain stimuli slowly start learning to ignore it by inhibiting responses from the same group of neurons. This is what makes us recognize a spider walking on the hand one day but ignore the touch of a shirt on us each day. The study helps explain why when this mechanism doesn’t occur in people with autism, a new complicated environment may trigger exaggerated responses of fear.