Chapter 5. Hormones and the Brain

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By Elizabeth Pennisi One of biology’s enduring mysteries is how some animals—from humans to honey bees—became so social. Now, a study suggests that, in the inconspicuous sweat bee, changes to the expression of a single gene could determine which bees are solitary and which are social. The gene, which has previously been linked to autism in humans, has also been connected to social behavior in animals like mice and locusts. The new discovery puts scientists one step closer toward demonstrating a common evolutionary basis for social behavior. “People have been taking about the genetics of sociality for years,” says Bernard Crespi, an evolutionary biologist at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada, who was not involved with the work. “Finding this gene is a real watershed for the field.” Sweat bees don’t have the same massive colonies as honey bees, whose hundreds of workers care for and protect a single egg-laying queen. But the tiny, gentle bees have some interesting social arrangements: In some groups and species, workers help a reproducing queen, as honey bees do; in other groups, sweat bee females tend their own broods. This difference has led scientists to think sweat bees may hold the key to understanding how more complex insect societies began to evolve. © 2018 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Autism; Genes & Behavior
Link ID: 25592 - Posted: 10.18.2018

Laura Sanders WASHINGTON — As the number of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder increases, so too has research on the complex and poorly understood disorder. With powerful genetic tools, advanced brain-imaging methods and large groups of children to study, the field is poised to make big contributions in understanding — and potentially treating — autism. Neuroscientist Kevin Pelphrey, who is formerly of George Washington University in Washington, D.C., but has recently moved to the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, studies autism’s beginnings. He described some of his findings about the link between brain development and the disorder on October 15 at a meeting of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Here are some of the key points Pelphrey made on how autism may get its start in the developing brain, how the disorder is different between boys and girls, and how large, long-term studies of children with autism might yield clues about the condition. What causes autism spectrum disorder? For most cases, no one knows. There’s likely no single cause — environmental and genetic risk factors work in combination. In some children, rare mutations in key genes have been linked to the disorder. More commonly, many genetic changes, each with a small influence on overall risk, may increase a child’s likelihood of developing the disorder. With the number of autism diagnoses growing, partly due to better detection, researchers are looking at potential factors beyond genetics, such as parents’ age, premature birth and maternal obesity. When does the disorder begin? |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 20

Keyword: Autism
Link ID: 25584 - Posted: 10.17.2018

Ashley P. Taylor Researchers have long believed that autism spectrum disorder is caused by some sort of imbalance between excitation and inhibition in the brain. In particular, studies have suggested that something is unusual about signaling controlled by the inhibitory neurotransmitter, γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA), whether it be lower levels of GABA or the receptor it binds to. But a study published last week (October 3) in Science Translational Medicine, which zeroed in on GABA receptor levels, finds no evidence that their abundance is any different between people with autism and people without. “We were unable to identify that individuals with autism had differences in GABAA receptor binding,” says Declan Murphy, a psychiatrist who studies brain development and neuropsychiatric disorders at King’s College London, who co-led the work with the Karolinska Institute’s Jacqueline Borg. “That’s important because it had previously been reported that they do have abnormalities in GABAA receptor binding, number one, and number two, it’s important because GABAA is a target of a number of pharmaceutical companies in terms of developing new treatments,” Murphy adds. GABAA is the most common form of the neurotransmitter in human brains, and since the early 2000s, reports have been piling up that associate deficits in the production of GABA or in GABA receptors to autism. For instance, studies in postmortem brains of people who had autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and of neurotypical subjects, led by Gene Blatt, a neuroscientist at the Hussman Institute for Autism in Baltimore, had found that people who had ASD had lower levels of the enzyme that makes GABA. Blatt’s investigations also found that people with ASD had lower GABAA receptor levels in the cingulate cortex and hippocampus. And an in vivo study by another group had detected reduced GABAA levels in the brains of children with ASD. © 1986 - 2018 The Scientist.

Keyword: Autism
Link ID: 25579 - Posted: 10.16.2018

By Ingrid Wickelgren It’s 7 p.m. on a Friday and Rebecca "Becky" Audette is already in bed, tucked under a polka-dotted lavender comforter. Dark purple velour curtains with butterfly ties hang over the lavender walls of her bedroom. Purple has been Becky’s favorite color since she was a toddler, before she was diagnosed with autism at age 7. Now, the young woman functions at about the level of a 4-year-old. “Am I going to bed? I want to go to bed,” she insists. Becky lives with her mother, Pamela Peirce; brother, Jason Audette; and Jason’s wife in a gray-and-white colonial-style house that was Peirce’s childhood home in Rehoboth, Massachusetts. When Peirce was a child, her extended family owned five houses along this quarter-mile stretch of road, dirt back then. Peirce and her grown children are the last of the clan to occupy the street. It’s paved now, but the house still sports features of an earlier time: two-pronged electrical outlets, a VCR, inherited furniture. It also offers a hopeful vision of the future. Becky bears the markings of an invasive, high-tech treatment under her purple plaid pajamas: two linear scars, each about 3 inches long, over her clavicle, and two circular bulges protruding ever so slightly from her chest. Beneath these marks lies the power source for an implant that stimulates key parts of her brain. © 2018 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Autism
Link ID: 25454 - Posted: 09.15.2018

By Frankie Schembri For many children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), recognizing and responding to eye contact, body language, and tone of voice is a major challenge. Improving those social skills can take lots of work—putting a strain on caregivers with limited time, resources, and money for therapy. Now, a study shows that just 30 days with an in-home robot that provides social feedback can dramatically improve a child’s interactions with others. Researchers have long known that robots—and games with automated feedback—can change the behavior of children with autism, at least in the short term. Such interactions have been shown to help children pick up on social cues, such as making sustained eye contact, that they might have missed from their caregivers. But translating these new skills into better person-to-person interactions may require longer and more intensive training, and few studies have been large enough—or long enough—to show significant, long-lasting improvements. So Brian Scassellati, a robotics expert and cognitive scientist at Yale University, put together an experiment that gave children a long-term relationship with their bots, one they could share with their families. His team provided 12 families with a tablet computer loaded with social games and a modified version of a commercially sold robot called Jibo, which was programmed to follow along with the games and provide feedback. “As a roboticist, that was one of the most frightening things in the world. Leaving the robots there and hoping they would do the things we’d programmed them to do,” Scassellati says. © 2018 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Autism; Robotics
Link ID: 25368 - Posted: 08.23.2018

Sara Reardon Mothers with high levels of the pesticide DDT in their blood during pregnancy are more likely to bear children who develop autism, according to a study of blood samples from more than one million pregnant women in Finland. The World Health Organization estimates that globally, one in 160 children has autism. Any case of autism is likely due to a number of factors, including genetics and other environmental exposures. Although the authors stress that the findings do not prove that autism is caused by DDT — whose use has been banned in many countries for decades over concerns about its effects on wildlife— it is the first such association using a direct measure of exposure to the pesticide. Researchers who investigate links between environment and disease say that further studies are needed to determine the mechanism, if any, by which DDT exposure could trigger autism. The study, published on 16 August in the American Journal of Psychiatry1, also examined mothers’ exposure to another set of chemicals known as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and found no association between these substances and autism. That finding deepens questions about whether or how DDT might be linked to autism. © 2018 Springer Nature Limited

Keyword: Autism; Neurotoxins
Link ID: 25346 - Posted: 08.17.2018

By Nicole M. Baran When Kathleen Morrison stepped onto the stage to present her research on the effects of stress on the brains of mothers and infants, she was nearly seven and a half months pregnant. The convergence was not lost on Morrison, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, nor on her audience. If there ever was a group of scientists that would be both interested in her findings and unfazed by her late-stage pregnancy, it was this one. Nearly 90 percent were women. It is uncommon for any field of science to be dominated by women. In 2015, women received only 34.4 percent of all STEM degrees.1 Even though women now earn more than half of PhDs in biology-related disciplines, only 36 percent of assistant professors and 18 percent of full professors in biology-related fields are women.2 Yet, 70 percent of the speakers at this year’s meeting of the Organization for the Study of Sex Differences (OSSD), where Morrison spoke, were women. Women make up 67 percent of the regular members and 81 percent of trainee members of OSSD, which was founded by the Society for Women’s Health Research. Similarly, 68 percent of the speakers at the annual meeting of the Society for Behavioral Neuroendocrinology (SBN) in 2017 were women. In the field of behavioral neuroendocrinology, 58 percent of professors and 62 percent of student trainees are women. The leadership of both societies also skews female, and the current and recent past presidents of both societies are women. It wasn’t always this way. As Elizabeth Adkins-Regan, a professor emerita at Cornell University and the recent past president of the SBN puts it: “The whole field was founded by guys!” “It was not a women’s field in the beginning,” agrees C. Sue Carter, director of the Kinsey Institute and professor of biology at Indiana University. © 2018 NautilusThink Inc

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Hormones & Behavior
Link ID: 25341 - Posted: 08.17.2018

by Lindsey Bever New research has shown that a common childhood vaccination given to pregnant women does not put their children at any increased risk of autism. A Kaiser Permanente study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics found no association between the prenatal Tdap (for tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis, also known as whooping cough) vaccine and autism spectrum disorder when looking at tens of thousands of children in the hospital system. It is the latest in a long line of studies showing that there is no link between vaccines and autism. Despite the abundant scientific evidence, a persistent conspiracy theory has misled some parents into fearing vaccines. “If any woman had any hesitancy, she can be reassured,” Tracy Becerra-Culqui, lead author and postdoctoral research fellow with Kaiser Permanente Southern California's department of research and evaluation, told The Washington Post. When not vaccinated, she said, “the risk of getting whooping cough is greater than any perceived risk of harm to the baby, so it should be a no-brainer to accept the vaccine.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the American College of Nurse-Midwives encourage expectant mothers to get the Tdap vaccine in the third trimester of pregnancy to protect babies from bacterial infections that can be fatal for infants. © 1996-2018 The Washington Post

Keyword: Autism; Neuroimmunology
Link ID: 25332 - Posted: 08.15.2018

By Jessica Wright, Boosting levels of the chemical messenger serotonin makes mice that model autism more social, according to a study published in Nature. The study suggests the approach may do the same in people with autism. It also offers an explanation for why antidepressants do not ease autism traits: They may increase serotonin levels too slowly to be effective. The researchers used a technique that rapidly increases serotonin levels in the nucleus accumbens, a brain region that mediates social reward. “Somehow, the release of serotonin in the nucleus accumbens really plays an important role in enhancing sociability,” says lead researcher Robert Malenka, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University in California. “The simple hypothesis is it makes the social interaction more reinforcing.” Decades of research have suggested a connection between serotonin and autism. About 10 years ago, this led researchers to test antidepressants, which increase serotonin levels by blocking its reabsorption into neurons, as a treatment for autism. However, in several trials, antidepressants such as fluoxetine (Prozac) proved ineffective at easing the condition’s features. The new study suggests that a drug that rapidly activates serotonin receptors would be a more effective way of treating the condition. © 2018 Scientific American

Keyword: Autism
Link ID: 25323 - Posted: 08.13.2018

Sukanya Charuchandra R. Liu et al., “Perception of social interaction compresses subjective duration in an oxytocin-dependent manner,” eLife, 7:e32100, 2018. External stimuli can affect our perception of time. Researchers in China set out to test whether a person’s social skills and perception of social interactions alters their sense of time. Subjects viewed two motion sequences depicting two humans composed of dots of light. The first video clip showed sociable behavior between the figures, such as passing an object, while the second showed no interaction—the figures moved independently of each other. The subjects had to indicate which clip appeared to last longer. Overall, volunteers found the clips with communicative behavior to be shorter, even when that wasn’t true. This “temporal compression effect” was not as pronounced in less sociable test subjects, as measured by their Autism Spectrum Quotient, a questionnaire-based assessment that determines where people fall on the neurotypical or autistic scale. “It not only highlights the idiosyncrasy of subjective time but also demonstrates that our perception of the world (something as basic as time) is ingrained with our personality traits,” writes coauthor Wen Zhou of the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Psychology in an email to The Scientist. © 1986 - 2018 The Scientist

Keyword: Hormones & Behavior; Autism
Link ID: 25306 - Posted: 08.08.2018

By Daniela Lamas Incompletely understood at best, after more than a century of false starts and research gains. So we learn in “Aroused,” an eye-opening new book that traces the history of endocrinology through a sequence of crisp, meticulously researched, and often surprisingly funny tales from the turn of the 20th century to today. Though hormones have entered common parlance — we have growth hormone and sex hormones and hormone replacement therapy — it was not always this way. Randi Hutter Epstein, an accomplished author who has a medical degree and a master’s of public health, illuminates more than a century of false starts and research gains as she explains the ways these chemical messengers control the daily work of our bodies. At the same time, she leaves us wondering how much of our current understanding of hormones is in fact “true” and how much may ultimately be disproved. This is a novel contribution. While most of the literature on hormones has been confined to medical text or limited to a single hormone (estrogen, for example), Epstein’s approach is wide-ranging. Consider this story. The year was 1924, and two teenagers in Chicago bludgeoned a younger boy to death. The new field of endocrinology was exploding at the time, and their lawyers proposed a provocative theory to avoid the death penalty: Hormones were at fault. After extensive X-rays, interviews, and measures of metabolism, doctors testified that the teenagers had severely impaired hormonal glands and had committed the grisly murder under the influence of hormones gone awry. They were sentenced to life in prison. Copyright 2018 Undark

Keyword: Hormones & Behavior
Link ID: 25262 - Posted: 07.28.2018

By Ceylan Yeginsu LONDON — Dim the lights. Silence the piped-in music. Turn down the checkout beeps. For an hour on Saturdays, a British supermarket chain is introducing a weekly “quieter hour” aimed at helping people with autism have a better shopping experience by easing sensory overload. The move by the supermarket, Morrisons, which begins on Saturday and runs from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m., has been welcomed by the National Autistic Society, which says that even small changes can make a big difference in the lives of people with autism and their families. “Around 700,000 people are on the autism spectrum in the U.K.,” Tom Purser, of the National Autistic Society, said in an email. “This means they see, hear and feel the world differently to other people, often in a more intense way, which can make shopping a real struggle.” Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how people communicate and relate to others and how they experience the world around them. More than 60 percent of people with autism avoid shops, and 79 percent say they feel socially isolated, according to figures published by the society. Morrisons’s effort is part of the National Autistic Society’s “Too Much Information” campaign: Last year, more than 5,000 retailers across Britain participated in “Autism Hour.” The society hopes to expand the initiative. Morrisons, the fourth-largest supermarket chain in Britain, said in a statement on its website, “Listening to customers, we found that one in five had a friend or family member with autism and many liked the idea of being able to shop in more comfort at 9-10 a.m. on a Saturday.” In the statement, Angela Gray, part of a community group that builds ties with the supermarket, is quoted as saying: “I was involved in the initial trial as my son is autistic, and we found that these changes made a real difference. The trial showed there is a need for a quieter shopping experience for some customers.” © 2018 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Autism
Link ID: 25230 - Posted: 07.20.2018

by Melissa Healy An extra shot of testosterone, it seems, makes a man act like an animal. You know the type: one of those male birds that unfurls some of its most spectacular feathers when the ladies are around, or the buck who uses his crown of antlers to advertise his virility. In short, an animal prone to making showy displays of his power, beauty or wealth to win mates, gain allies and intimidate competitors. But for humans — American men, at least — new research suggests that this testosterone-driven display of prowess finds its expression in a preference for status goods. Whether it’s in his choice of top-shelf alcohol at the club, the watch on his wrist or the clothes he wears, a man under the influence of the male sex hormone is going to reach for the product that says to potential mates (and to competitors for those mates), “U can’t touch this.” This pursuit of status in the choice of manufactured goods is called “positional consumption.” It’s been a hot topic among evolutionary psychologists and now is finding its way into the study of marketing. Researchers from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania gave a supply of gel to 243 men, ages 18 to 55, and asked them to rub it all over their upper body. Some of the gels contained testosterone, others a placebo. Then the researchers asked the subjects to look at pictures and descriptions of five pairs of items — including watches, jeans and jackets — and judge which ones they preferred. © 1996-2018 The Washington Post

Keyword: Hormones & Behavior; Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 25210 - Posted: 07.16.2018

By Vikram K. Jaswal and Nameera Akhtar One of the most widely held beliefs about autistic people — that they are not interested in other people — is almost certainly wrong. Our understanding of autism has changed quite a bit over the past century, but this particular belief has been remarkably persistent. Seventy-five years ago, the first published account of autism described its subjects as “happiest when left alone” and “impervious to people.” Even now, a National Institutes of Health fact sheet suggests that autistic people are “indifferent to social engagement,” and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention claims that some “might not be interested in other people at all.” There is no question that autistic people can seem as though they are not interested in others. They may not make eye contact or they may repeat lines from movies that don’t seem relevant in the moment. They may flap their hands or rock their bodies in ways that other people find off-putting. But just because someone appears socially uninterested does not mean that he or she is. As we point out in a paper published last month in Behavioral and Brain Sciences, many autistic people say they are very interested in, and in some cases desperate for, social connection. They experience loneliness, say they want friends and even prefer two-player games to one-player games. As the autistic author Naoki Higashida writes, “I can’t believe that anyone born as a human being really wants to be left all on their own, not really,” adding, “The truth is, we’d love to be with other people.” So why do autistic people act in ways that make it appear they want to be left alone? Autism is a neurological condition that affects how people perceive, think and move. Autistic people say that some of their apparently unsociable behaviors result from these neurological characteristics. Paradoxically, they may behave in these ways when they are trying to engage with other people. © 2018 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Autism
Link ID: 25209 - Posted: 07.16.2018

By Jeré Longman Researchers have found flaws in some of the data that track and field officials used to formulate regulations for the complicated cases of Caster Semenya of South Africa, the two-time Olympic champion at 800 meters, and other female athletes with naturally elevated testosterone levels. Three independent researchers said they believed the mistakes called into question the validity of a 2017 study commissioned by track and field’s world governing body, the International Federation of Athletics Associations, or I.A.A.F., according to interviews and a paper written by the researchers and provided to The New York Times. The 2017 study was used to help devise regulations that could require some runners to undergo medical treatment to lower their hormone levels to remain eligible for the sport’s most prominent international competitions, like the Summer Games. The researchers have called for a retraction of the study, published last year in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. The study served as an underpinning for rules, scheduled to be enacted in November, which would establish permitted testosterone levels for athletes participating in women’s events from 400 meters to the mile. “They cannot use this study as an excuse or a reason for setting a testosterone level because the data they have presented is not solid,” one of the independent researchers, Erik Boye of Norway, said Thursday. The I.A.A.F. has updated its research, which was published last week, again in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. “The I.A.A.F. will not be seeking a retraction of the 2017 study,” the governing body said in a statement on Thursday. “The conclusions remain the same.” But the statement did little to dampen criticism by the independent researchers. The I.A.A.F. seems “bound to lose” an intended challenge by Semenya to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, a kind of Supreme Court for international athletics, said Boye, a cancer researcher and an antidoping expert. © 2018 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Hormones & Behavior
Link ID: 25200 - Posted: 07.13.2018

By Rachel Zamzow, The brains of children with autism fold differently than those of their typical peers, two new studies suggest. But whether they are unusually smooth or convoluted depends on location and age. Certain regions of the brain’s outer layer, the cerebral cortex, are more intricately folded in school-age children and adolescents with autism than they are in controls, according to one of the studies. In young people, this folding difference may be the most obvious structural feature of the autism brain, says Ralph-Axel Müller, professor of psychology at San Diego State University, who led the study. Their brains don’t tend to show overall differences in brain volume or surface area, for example. “It seems like [brain folding] is actually a rather sensitive anatomical metric,” he says. By contrast, preschoolers with autism do not show exaggerated folding unless they have enlarged brains, according to a second study. And one brain region is atypically smooth in preschoolers with autism. Together, the studies add to evidence that folding follows a different developmental path in autism brains than in controls. “That is fascinating,” says Greg Wallace, assistant professor of speech, language and hearing sciences at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., who was not involved in either study. “Having autism is going to affect developmental trajectories of all kinds of things, including cortical structure,” he says. © 2018 Scientific American

Keyword: Autism; Brain imaging
Link ID: 25190 - Posted: 07.10.2018

NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro talks with Dr. Randi Hutter Epstein about her new book Aroused, which tells the story of the scientific quest to understand human hormones. LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST: What do sleep, sex, insulin, mood and hunger have in common? Well, they're all controlled by hormones. But just a century ago, the power of our chemical messengers was barely understood. A new book by Dr. Randi Hutter Epstein called "Aroused" tells the stories of the scientists who work to explore and explain our hormones. Dr. Epstein joins us now from our New York bureau. Welcome to the program. RANDI HUTTER EPSTEIN: Thanks for having me. GARCIA-NAVARRO: The book is organized around stories from key moments in hormone research. And I have to say, many of the studies they were doing in the early days were pretty gruesome. EPSTEIN: When we say study, we tend now to think of the randomised clinical controlled trial. You know, you have one sample here. You compare it to another. When they were doing studies, they were doing sort of weird experiments on people and dogs and all kind of things. So there was Harvey Cushing. He was one of the first people to talk about that pituitary tumors can really muck you up and like send a lot of hormones awry. But here's what he tried to do that didn't work out that's kind of a wacky experiment. He had a 48-year-old man that had a pituitary tumor that was making him have double vision and headaches and other endocrine issues. And Harvey Cushing thought, what if we take a nice, healthy pituitary of a baby that just died if there is a newborn that didn't make it and just implant that in this old man, and then we just revive him and he'd be back to normal. Newspapers got a hold of it, as media tends to do. And there were wonderful headlines like baby brain, you know, broken brain fixed by baby. And it went wild in terms of, wow, we can now cure broken, old brains. And, spoiler alert, let's just say that we don't replace baby pituitary glands into grownups when they have pituitary tumors anymore.

Keyword: Hormones & Behavior
Link ID: 25168 - Posted: 07.03.2018

Erika Engelhaupt The first scientific experiment on hormones took an approach that sounds unscientific: lopping off roosters’ testicles. It was 1848, and Dr. Arnold Berthold castrated two of his backyard roosters. The cocks’ red combs faded and shrank, and the birds stopped chasing hens. Then things got really weird. The doctor castrated two more roosters and implanted a testicle from each into the other’s abdomen. As Randi Hutter Epstein writes in a new book, each rooster “had nothing between his drumsticks but a lone testicle in his gut — yet he turned back into a full-fledged hen-chaser, red comb and all.” It was the first glimpse that certain body parts must produce internal secretions, as hormones were first known, and that these substances — and not just nerves — were important to the body’s control systems. Today, we know that hormones are chemical messengers shaping everything from sex and development to sleep, stress, mood, metabolism and behavior. Yet few of us know much about these powerful substances coursing through our bodies. That ignorance makes Aroused — titled for the Greek meaning of the word hormone — an invaluable guide. Epstein, a medical writer and M.D., tells the history of hormone research from that first rooster experiment, but cleverly moves back and forth through time, avoiding any hint of dry recitation. She explores the scientists who discovered and deciphered the effects of important hormones, as well as the personal stories of how people’s lives have been profoundly changed by these chemicals. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2018

Keyword: Hormones & Behavior
Link ID: 25141 - Posted: 06.26.2018

By Seth Mnookin In February 1981, a British psychiatrist named Lorna Wing published an academic paper highlighting a 1944 clinical account of “autistic psychopathy” by a recently deceased Austrian physician named Hans Asperger. It wasn’t an obvious piece of work to single out: As Wing acknowledged, Asperger’s study had received almost no attention from English-language researchers in the decades since publication. That was about to change. Wing argued that the disorder that Asperger had described was a unique syndrome, distinct from autism, and should be considered as one of “a wider group of conditions which have, in common, impairment of development of social interaction, communication and imagination.” Wing, whose daughter had been diagnosed with autism in the 1950s, understood from her own experience that this was a disorder with multiple gradations, which affected people across the full spectrum of intellectual abilities. But this was a radical notion: At the time, one of the dominant paradigms for understanding autism was that the condition was caused by “refrigerator mothers” — emotionally frigid women who were not warm enough to nurture developing children. It’s impossible to know why Wing chose to ground her report in Asperger’s rather flimsy research — his paper, after all, had referenced just four patients — rather than relying solely on her own, significantly more impressive work. (It is worth pointing out that then, as now, virtually all eponymous psychiatric conditions were named after men.) Whatever her motivation, Wing’s efforts were successful: “Asperger’s syndrome,” the term she proposed, soon entered the clinical vernacular. By the 1990s, it was recognized around the world as an accepted diagnosis — and autism was no longer viewed as a singular condition. © 2018 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Autism
Link ID: 25140 - Posted: 06.26.2018

By Sarah DeWeerdt, The Research on Autism and Development (RAD) Laboratory is located in a Tetris-like maze of brown wooden buildings, not far from the main campus of the University of California, San Diego. The lab itself is a nondescript warren of small beige rooms. But everything else about it is extraordinary. The first clue is a T-shirt one of the lab’s young interns wears on this sunny day in April, featuring the RAD Lab’s motto: “We play mind games.” One of the newer recruits, 20-year-old Naseem Baramki-Azar, sports a “Super Mario Bros.” shirt. A half-dozen other lab members huddle around computer screens displaying none of the usual fare of charts or spreadsheets: Instead, they’re hard at work making cartoon moles pop out of molehills, or fat spaceships careen toward the top of a computer screen. The lab’s director, Jeanne Townsend, and associate director, Leanne Chukoskie, periodically poke their heads in to check on the progress. The two women, a generation apart, are a study in contrasts. Townsend is reserved, with dark-framed square glasses; Chukoskie is a fast-talker with a California blond ponytail. But they finish each other’s sentences when they talk about their quest: to develop video games that can help children with autism. The project has stretched the two neuroscientists in unfamiliar directions. “I find myself doing a lot of computer science these days,” Chukoskie says. They are also fledgling entrepreneurs. Last year, they launched a startup, BrainLeap Technologies, also based in San Diego. That step, Chukoskie says, filled her with a mix of unenthusiastic “eh” and dread-filled “ugh.” Despite their discomfort, these two scientists are part of a growing cadre braving video-game development in search of novel therapies for autism. © 2018 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Autism
Link ID: 25132 - Posted: 06.23.2018