Autism Research: May 30, 2014 Week in Review

ResearchResearchers develop ‘genetic formula’ to improve autism screening

In a study published in the prestigious Nature genetics, researcher Mohammed Uddin and his team have discussed about a technology that they have developed. The team identified 4000 exons and 1700 genes that affect brain development and have helped the scientists develop a new way to predict the genetic mutations that will have the highest chance of producing autism in a child. Brain development in its earlier stages depends heavily on these exons being ‘turned on’ at the right place and time inside the brain. The genes identified will help give a clue about when exactly autism starts developing prenatally. The study was conducted at Toronto’s SickKids Hospital and University of Toronto and was co-authored by Dr. Stephen Scherer, Director of Applied Genomics at the hospital. More on this story from Autism Daily Newscast can be found here.

Audio visual processing gives clues to sensory perception in autism

In a very interesting new study published by Current Biology, researcher Prof. Lars Muckli and his team from the University of Glasgow have found that not only does vision play a role in hearing, but hearing plays in role in the interpretation of visual input as well. Sounds we hear paint the background and prime the brain for a visual input. For example, if you hear clicking heels, you expect a woman to arrive and if a man arrives instead, there is the reaction of surprise. Sound creates mental imagery and visual projections in the brain’s eye and this helps understand how both auditory and visual inputs work in tandem to lead to our reactions. This gives us a window of understanding into how the brain’s various seemingly disconnected areas function and how those with autism might be having trouble responding to visual clues. The study is the first of its kind to show that the auditory and visual areas are indeed connected in the human brain just like they are in our primate cousins.

Mohawk mice lead scientists onto 2 brain pathways

Overgrooming in mice is a characteristic feature signalling repetitive motor actions. This is similar to repetitive behaviors observed in certain conditions like autism. Although, the mice over-groom each other by grooming each other’s hair, children with autism show behaviors like hand flapping, rocking, turning in circles, etc. the lab grown mice at the New York University Langone Medical Center found their mice had a stylized central hairline running right in the center of the area between the ears and barely a tuft of hair elsewhere. These ‘mohawk’- haired mice lead the team lead by Gordon Fishell onto 2 chemical pathways in the brain. By deleting a protein called Cntnap4 in the mice, researchers found that pathways of 2 neurotransmitters, namely dopamine and GABA were affected. The GABA pathways got depressed while the dopamine pathways got overstimulated. Once the balance was shot, the resultant behavior gave the researchers an ‘aha’ moment. The study showed that the protein might be the guiding beacon shedding light on future therapies for autism. The study was published in Nature this week. More on this story from Autism Daily Newscast can be found here.

Environmental Changes to Genes in Children With Autism

New research appears to confirm that environmental influences on genes may play a role in the development of autism. Scientists believe that this may help explain why older pregnant women are at greater risk for having a baby with autism. The study, in the journal PLOS Genetics, considered 47 children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and 48 typically developing children of women aged 35 and older. Researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, identified two groups of altered genes of the children with autism that were different from the genes in the typically developing children. More on this story from Autism Daily Newscast can be found here.

Scientists find how sense of touch can trigger emotions to help individuals with autism

Scientists have found the reason why a sense of touch can trigger our emotions. Science World Report say that slowly conducting nerves in the skin that respond to gentle touch, reveal how sensing something can cause us to respond with our feelings. The nerves responsible are called c-tactile afferents (CTs), and are similar to the nerves that detect pain. They have the opposite effect in that they relay events that are rewarding and pleasant. More on this story from Autism Daily Newscast can be found here.