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by Peter Hess Dysfunction in a brain circuit that regulates movement may contribute to some of the motor learning difficulties associated with autism, according to a new mouse study. The mice lack one copy of a chromosomal region called 16p11.2. Up to about one-third of people with this deletion have autism, and some have speech and motor problems. Most autistic people have motor difficulties and show delays in developmental milestones such as standing and walking. The 16p mice, too, are slow to learn new motor tasks, such as balancing on a spinning rod. The explanation seems to be a shortage of the neurotransmitter noradrenaline in the motor cortex, which helps coordinate and execute movements. The dearth originates in the locus coeruleus, a part of the brainstem that serves as the brain’s main source of the chemical. “Noradrenaline is known to be involved in modulating the excitability of neurons,” says lead researcher Simon Chen, assistant professor of cellular and molecular medicine at the University of Ottawa in Ontario, Canada. “When there’s low noradrenaline in the motor cortex and the mouse is learning a movement, it takes them longer for the neural circuits to consolidate neurons that are important to control movement.” The learning process is similar for people, Chen says. When learning how to walk, for instance, a child loses her footing and falls many times. But once in a while, she will take a few more steps than she did in the previous attempt, and the brain remembers the movement that made that possible. © 2021 Simons Foundation

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 11: Motor Control and Plasticity
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning; Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 27769 - Posted: 04.14.2021

by Angie Voyles Askham Mice that lack CNTNAP2, a gene linked to autism, have an atypical collection of microbes in their intestines, according to a new study. Treating the mice with a strain of gut bacteria commonly found in wildtype mice, people and other mammals improves their social behavior. The CNTNAP2 mice are hyperactive, and those raised in isolation prefer to spend time alone or with a familiar cagemate rather than with a stranger mouse. But when they grow up alongside wildtype littermates, their social deficits — but not their hyperactivity — disappear, the study shows. Because mice that live together eat one another’s feces, which can alter the microbial content of their guts, the researchers wondered if a change in the microbiome might be driving the change in the isolated animals’ social behaviors. “It was sort of a serendipitous discovery,” says lead investigator Mauro Costa-Mattioli, professor of neuroscience at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. The findings highlight how some autism traits associated with genetic mutations may be shaped, and potentially eased, via changes to the gut microbiome. Figuring out which behaviors can be attributed to the environment is particularly helpful for thinking about treatments because the environment can be changed, whereas “genetics is still hard to correct,” says Sarkis Mazmanian, professor of microbiology at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, who was not involved in the work. © 2021 Simons Foundation

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 13: Homeostasis: Active Regulation of the Internal Environment; Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 9: Homeostasis: Active Regulation of the Internal Environment; Chapter 13: Memory and Learning
Link ID: 27746 - Posted: 03.27.2021

by Charles Q. Choi Blood levels of proteins associated with the autism-linked gene PTEN could influence the course of the condition, according to a new study. Tests measuring these molecules could also help clinicians diagnose autism and other neurological conditions, and chart their trajectories, the researchers say. “We might be able to make useful clinical predictions about outcomes that can help to tailor interventions earlier and to help patients and families plan for what is needed,” says lead investigator Thomas Frazier, professor of psychology at John Carroll University in University Heights, Ohio. The PTEN gene encodes a protein that suppresses tumors and also influences the connections between neurons. Mutations in PTEN are linked not only to benign tumors and several types of cancer, but also to autism and macrocephaly, or an unusually large head. Much remains unknown, however, about why PTEN mutations can affect people with and without autism differently. For example, PTEN mutations are often associated with impaired mental function in autistic people but not as often in non-autistic people, whose traits can vary widely. In the new study, Frazier and his colleagues examined how the mutations affect blood levels of not just PTEN protein, but also the proteins it interacts with. Molecular links: The team assessed the blood levels of various proteins — as well as intelligence quotient (IQ) and other factors related to mental function — in 25 autistic and 16 non-autistic participants with PTEN mutations and macrocephaly, all about 9 years old on average. The researchers also examined 20 participants, about 14 years old on average, with autism, macrocephaly and no PTEN mutations. © 2021 Simons Foundation

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning
Link ID: 27711 - Posted: 02.28.2021

by Laura Dattaro Genetic variants that contribute to autism may also be involved in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and Tourette syndrome, according to a new study. In 2019, researchers from the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium linked variants associated with autism to seven neuropsychiatric conditions, including anorexia, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Despite the genetic overlap, though, some of those conditions, such as anorexia and Tourette syndrome, don’t tend to co-occur. The new work homes in on Tourette syndrome — a motor and tic condition — and three diagnoses that often present with it: More than half of people with Tourette also have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or ADHD, and up to 20 percent have autism. Because all four conditions can involve impulsive and compulsive behaviors, some scientists have proposed that they exist along a spectrum, with ADHD on one end, OCD on the other, and autism and Tourette in the middle. The goal of looking at all the conditions on this spectrum together is to elucidate the genetics underlying their traits, says lead investigator Peristera Paschou, associate professor of biological sciences at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. “There is a lot of value in zooming out and trying to think across what would be strict diagnostic categories,” Paschou says. Gene associations: The researchers analyzed data from previous studies that involved a total of 93,294 people with at least one of the four conditions, along with 51,311 controls. They looked at common variants — single-letter changes to DNA that appear in more than 1 percent of the population — shared by any two of the four conditions. © 2021 Simons Foundation

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 16: Psychopathology: Biological Basis of Behavior Disorders
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning; Chapter 12: Psychopathology: The Biology of Behavioral Disorders
Link ID: 27676 - Posted: 02.03.2021

by Peter Hess Mice missing a copy of the autism-linked gene MAGEL2 have trouble discerning between a familiar mouse and an unfamiliar one, but treating them with the social hormone vasopressin reverses this deficit, according to a new study. Mutations in or deletions of MAGEL2 are linked to autism and several related conditions, including Prader-Willi syndrome, which is characterized by intellectual disability, poor muscle tone, difficulty feeding and problems with social interactions. The new findings suggest that these social issues in people stem from impairments in vasopressin’s function in a brain region called the lateral septum, which relays signals between the hippocampus and the ventral tegmental area. They also hint that vasopressin treatment could remedy those issues, says Elizabeth Hammock, assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at Florida State University in Tallahassee, who was not involved with the study. A 2020 study showed that low levels of vasopressin in cerebrospinal fluid can flag many infants who are later diagnosed with autism. But clinical trials have shown that either providing vasopressin or blocking its effects can improve social communication in autistic children. Because of these seemingly contradictory results, “a better understanding of how alterations in the vasopressinergic system leads to social deficits and how vasopressin administration could resolve some of these problems was needed,” says co-lead researcher Freddy Jeanneteau, professor of neuroscience at Montpellier University in Montpellier, France. © 2021 Simons Foundation

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 5: Hormones and the Brain
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning; Chapter 8: Hormones and Sex
Link ID: 27665 - Posted: 01.27.2021

by Angie Voyles Askham Mutations that affect a histone called H3.3 can lead to a neurodegenerative condition marked by developmental delay and congenital anomalies, according to a new study. Histones act as spools for DNA, making it possible to pack the strands of genetic material tightly within the nucleus. They also serve as gatekeepers for protein production, physically blocking proteins from interacting with genes, or allowing them access to turn genes on and off. Autism has been tied to mutations in proteins that modify histones and disrupt this gatekeeping process. The new work is among the first to link atypical neurodevelopment and degeneration to mutations that affect a histone itself. It focuses on 46 people with a mutation in either of two genes that code for H3.3. All have a diagnosis of developmental delay. Many also have other medical conditions, such as seizures, heart defects and atypical development of the head and face. “We see this [result] as a Rosetta Stone,” says lead researcher Elizabeth Bhoj, assistant professor of pediatrics and human genetics at the University of Pennsylvania. In addition to providing information about this particular cohort, the findings could help explain the role that histones play in neurodevelopmental conditions in general, she says. Earlier studies have associated H3.3 with cancer, but none of the participants in the new study have tumors. About 21 percent, however, show signs of neurodegeneration, and 26 percent have shrinkage in the cerebral cortex, the brain’s outer layer, suggesting the condition may be progressive. “It’s an impressive collection of novel mutations that seem to be converging on a set of clinical features,” says James Noonan, associate professor of genetics and neuroscience at Yale School of Medicine, who was not involved in the study. © 2021 Simons Foundation

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning
Link ID: 27660 - Posted: 01.23.2021

by Sarah DeWeerdt Children with autism may have a subtly different set of bacteria in their gut than their non-autistic siblings, according to unpublished data presented virtually on Tuesday at the 2021 Society for Neuroscience Global Connectome. The prospect that manipulating the microbiome could ease gastrointestinal problems and other autism traits has tantalized many families of autistic children. But studies of the gut microbiome in people with autism are scarce and have shown conflicting results, and mouse studies can be difficult to interpret. For the new work, researchers recruited 111 families that each have two children — one with autism and one without — born within two years of each other and aged 2 to 7 years old. “We tried to be as careful as possible by using a control cohort that were siblings,” says study leader Maude David, assistant professor of microbiology at Oregon State University in Corvallis. This study design helped control for variables such as household environment, pets and other factors that can shape the microbiome, she says. The researchers collected stool samples from the children at three time points, two weeks apart. The repeated sampling reduced the likelihood that short-term shifts in the children’s gut microbiome — due to transient environmental influences, such as day-to-day dietary changes — would skew the results. © 2021 Simons Foundation

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 13: Homeostasis: Active Regulation of the Internal Environment
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning; Chapter 9: Homeostasis: Active Regulation of the Internal Environment
Link ID: 27644 - Posted: 01.15.2021

Our staff took a look back at the papers we wrote about in 2020 that most shaped our understanding of autism and how to diagnose or treat it. Despite the chaos of this year, there were many to consider. But we reviewed them all, asked some researchers for input and winnowed the list down to 10. Some of our selections highlight new insights into factors that influence autism traits, including fever, mitochondria and exons — the protein-coding parts of genes. Others expand our understanding of the genes and genetic regions linked to autism, as well as their roles in related conditions. Two new gene therapies for autism-related syndromes also caught our eye. And we single out a study of the sperm from men who have children on the spectrum, and a look at what happens to the toddlers who screen positive for autism. Here are our picks for the past year’s most notable papers, in reverse chronological order. DNA helix1. Mutations in the same exon linked to similar autism traits People with autism who carry DNA variants in the same exon, or protein-coding region of a gene, have more similar cognitive abilities and behaviors than those who carry mutations in different regions of the same gene, this study found. A separate study detailed how one particular exon contributes to social behavior and cognitive abilities in mice; a third paper described a new tool that helps researchers determine how mutations in an exon affect the number of protein isoforms a gene can express. © 2021 Simons Foundation

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning
Link ID: 27641 - Posted: 01.09.2021

by Sarah DeWeerdt A drug that has been tested in clinical trials as a treatment for depression restores social memory in a mouse model of 22q11.2 deletion syndrome, according to a new study. The findings hint that the drug might also be useful to treat social cognitive difficulties in people with conditions such as autism, experts say. People who are missing one copy of a chromosomal region known as 22q11.2 have heart abnormalities, distinctive facial features and an increased risk of schizophrenia and other psychiatric conditions. About 16 percent have autism. People with the syndrome also have a smaller-than-average hippocampus, a structure that functions as the brain’s memory hub. The findings extend what researchers know about the role of the hippocampus in social behavior by suggesting that a small region of the hippocampus known as CA2 springs to life when an animal encounters an individual it hasn’t met before. A strength of the study is that it describes the basic biology of a brain circuit, shows how that circuit is disrupted in a mouse model and identifies a therapeutic target to reverse those disruptions, says Anthony LaMantia, professor of developmental disorders and genetics at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, who was not involved in the work. “This is one of the best papers sort of going from soup to nuts that has come out.” Previous studies showed that CA2 is crucial for social memory, the ability to recognize and remember others. “But we really didn’t have a good handle on what type of information CA2 was providing to the rest of the brain,” says study leader Steven Siegelbaum, professor of neuroscience and pharmacology at Columbia University. © 2020 Simons Foundation

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 17: Learning and Memory
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning; Chapter 13: Memory and Learning
Link ID: 27635 - Posted: 12.22.2020

by Peter Hess Two types of neurons process social information, a new mouse study suggests, but only one is disrupted in mice missing the autism-linked gene FMR1. The neurons reside in a brain region called the hypothalamus, and both send signals via the hormone oxytocin. The deletion of FMR1, however, affects these cells differently: The loss of FMR1 in the smaller, ‘parvocellular’ neurons diminishes the mice’s interest in social interactions — but only those involving peers, the new work shows. The gene’s loss from the larger, ‘magnocellular’ neurons, by contrast, does not disrupt the animals’ interactions with either peers or parents. “There are a lot of different types of social behaviors, and not all of them are impaired in autism,” says lead investigator Gül Dölen, assistant professor of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. Whereas peer-to-peer social interactions are troublesome for many autistic people, other social interactions — such as parental connections — are on par with those seen in non-autistic people, she says. This new understanding of the different neurons’ functions could help explain why clinical trials of oxytocin for treating autism traits have shown mixed results. It could also help scientists develop more effective treatments, experts say. “There are these two different kinds of neurons that we’ve known about for a really long time, and each of their contributions to social behavior has never really been dissected out,” says Larry Young, chief of behavioral neuroscience and psychiatric disorders at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, who was not involved with the study. “It’s really important for the future of drug development.” © 2020 Simons Foundation

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 5: Hormones and the Brain
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning; Chapter 8: Hormones and Sex
Link ID: 27632 - Posted: 12.19.2020

by Laura Dattaro In 1983, psychologist Christopher Gillberg posed a provocative question to the readers of the British Journal of Psychiatry: Could autism and anorexia nervosa share underlying causes? Gillberg’s curiosity came in part from his observations of three autistic boys whose female cousins all had the eating disorder, which is characterized by food restrictions, low body weight, an intense fear of gaining weight and a distorted body image. Gillberg, professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, initially suggested that anorexia is the ‘female form of autism.’ Although that idea wasn’t entirely accurate, his suspicions that eating disorders and autism are linked have borne out: People with anorexia are more likely to be autistic than those without it, studies show. There are fewer data demonstrating that autistic people are at particularly high risk for eating disorders, but experts say it’s likely. How often do anorexia and autism overlap? Estimates vary, though most researchers agree that roughly 20 percent of people with anorexia are autistic. Both conditions are rare — about 1 percent of people are autistic and 0.3 percent have anorexia — and most research so far has examined the prevalence of autism in people with anorexia, not the reverse. Among 60 women receiving treatment for an eating disorder at a clinic in the United Kingdom, for example, 14 of them, or 23 percent, scored above the diagnostic cutoff on a test called the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS). Similarly, about one-third of people with anorexia have been diagnosed with autism, according to a long-running study that has followed 51 people with anorexia and 51 controls in Sweden since the 1980s. © 2020 Simons Foundation

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 13: Homeostasis: Active Regulation of the Internal Environment
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 4: Development of the Brain; Chapter 9: Homeostasis: Active Regulation of the Internal Environment
Link ID: 27616 - Posted: 12.09.2020

by Angie Voyles Askham Many people with mutations that disrupt a gene called NCKAP1 have autism or autism traits — along with speech and language problems, motor delays and learning difficulties — according to a new study. The results, from a large international team of researchers and clinicians, clarify how mutations in NCKAP1 affect people and solidify its position as a top autism gene. Sequencing studies over the past decade have turned up three autistic people with de novo, or non-inherited, variants that likely disrupt NCKAP1, putting it on a list of genes strongly tied to autism. Other work has shown that mice that do not express the gene have atypical brain development. But those reports contain little information about the outward characteristics of people with NCKAP1 mutations — which are challenging to study because variants in the gene are rare, says Hui Guo, associate professor of life sciences at Central South University in Changsha, China. In the new work, Guo teamed up with scientists and clinicians across the globe to identify and characterize 18 additional people with NCKAP1 mutations. “This study demonstrates that international cooperation among many institutions is becoming fundamental to advancing our understanding of rare variants,” says Abha Gupta, assistant professor of pediatrics at Yale University, who was not involved in the study. Painting a detailed picture of traits associated with NCKAP1 mutations can also improve a person’s chance of being diagnosed and provide guidance about expected outcomes, she says. Guo asked colleagues who collect genetic data for other research to sift through their records for people with NCKAP1 variants. He also used GeneMatcher, a site that connects researchers to clinicians interested in the same genetic variants. © 2020 Simons Foundation

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 4: Development of the Brain
Link ID: 27611 - Posted: 12.07.2020

by Laura Dattaro Autistic boys with large brains in early childhood still have large brains in adolescence, according to a new study. Autistic girls, too, have brains that grow differently from those of their non-autistic peers. The findings challenge the long-standing idea that brain enlargement in autism is temporary. Previous studies indicated that young children on the spectrum have larger brains than their non-autistic peers but older people with autism do not. To explain the difference, researchers speculated that a pruning process follows early brain overgrowth. But the changes are a mirage, the researchers behind the new study say: Because having a large brain is associated with a low intelligence quotient (IQ) and severe autism traits, and because older children with such characteristics are often excluded from imaging studies, the prior results reflect only a lack of older participants with large brains. “This whole idea of this early overgrowth followed by normalization is just an artifact of sampling bias,” says lead investigator Christine Wu Nordahl, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of California, Davis MIND Institute. “It was sort of like, ‘Wow, why didn’t we ever think about this before?’ But it’s pretty clear that that’s what’s happening.” Autistic and non-autistic children also show different development patterns in their white matter — fibers that connect regions of the brain — in early childhood, a second study from Nordahl’s group shows. Some of the differences correlate with changes in the children’s autism traits over time. © 2020 Simons Foundation

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 2: Functional Neuroanatomy: The Cells and Structure of the Nervous System
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 4: Development of the Brain; Chapter 2: Neurophysiology: The Generation, Transmission, and Integration of Neural Signals
Link ID: 27598 - Posted: 11.30.2020

by Peter Hess / Mutations in a top autism gene called SYNGAP1 slow the rate at which zebrafish digest food and pass waste. The findings may explain why some people with SYNGAP1 mutations have gastrointestinal (GI) problems. Researchers presented the unpublished work on Tuesday and Wednesday at the 2020 International SYNGAP1 Scientific Conference, which took place virtually because of the coronavirus pandemic. They also began recruiting people with SYNGAP1 mutations at the meeting for an ongoing study of gut function. “It’s been in the literature, this link between GI symptoms and [autism], for a long time, with not a lot of progress on the mechanisms,” says lead researcher Julia Dallman, associate professor of biology at the University of Miami in Florida, who presented the findings on Wednesday. In the brain, SYNGAP1 functions mainly at synapses, or the junctions between neurons, and helps the cells exchange chemical messages. Mutations in the gene are strongly linked to autism, seizures, intellectual disability and sleep problems. Prompted by families’ anecdotal reports of constipation, reflux and overeating in people with SYNGAP1 mutations, Dallman and her colleagues decided to explore the gene’s role in the gut. The young zebrafish’s transparent skin allowed the researchers to trace the movement of microscopic fluorescent beads — mixed into the fish’s food — through the gut. In this way, they measured how quickly and how strongly the digestive tract moves food and waste. © 2020 Simons Foundation

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 13: Homeostasis: Active Regulation of the Internal Environment
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 4: Development of the Brain; Chapter 9: Homeostasis: Active Regulation of the Internal Environment
Link ID: 27590 - Posted: 11.21.2020

by Angie Voyles Askham Editing DNA in embryonic and newborn mice by using CRISPR technology can override mutations underlying Angelman syndrome and prevent many of the condition’s traits, according to a new study1. The effects last for at least 17 months and may be permanent, the researchers say. “It’s very exciting,” says Steven Kushner, professor of psychiatry at Columbia University, who was not involved in the study. Angelman syndrome usually stems from a mutation in or deletion of the UBE3A gene. People have two copies of the gene — one from each parent — but typically only the one passed down from the mother is active in neurons. Mutations that stymie that copy can lead to a lack of UBE3A protein in the brain, causing the syndrome’s core traits: developmental delays, motor dysfunction, speech impairments, seizures and, often, autism. These traits improve in response to treatments that activate the silent yet intact paternal copy of UBE3A and boost production of the protein in Angelman syndrome model mice2,3. But these treatments wear off over time, requiring repeated injections into the spinal fluid or brain. The new therapy is effective after only two doses, says lead researcher Mark Zylka, professor of cell biology and physiology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The strategy uses the enzyme CRISPR-Cas9 to cut and edit DNA encoding an ‘antisense RNA’ molecule that ordinarily serves to block production of UBE3A protein from the paternal copy of the gene. The technique also rouses the silent paternal copy of the gene in cultured human neurons, suggesting that it might work in people. © 2020 Simons Foundation

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 4: Development of the Brain
Link ID: 27575 - Posted: 11.10.2020

By Giorgia Guglielmi, Spectrum A small clinical trial of a gene therapy for Angelman syndrome—a rare genetic condition related to autism—is on hold after two participants temporarily lost the ability to walk. The safety issue is important to resolve, experts say, given that the therapy otherwise appears to be effective, and the trial could guide treatment strategies for similar brain conditions. Biopharmaceutical company Ultragenyx in Novato, California, in collaboration with Florida-based biotech startup GeneTx, launched the trial in February to assess the safety of a therapy for Angelman syndrome, a neurodevelopmental condition characterized by intellectual disability, balance and motor problems, seizures, sleep problems and, in some cases, autism. Angelman syndrome results from the mutation or absence of a gene called UBE3A. People inherit two copies of UBE3A. Typically, only the maternal copy is active in neurons and the paternal copy is silent. But in people with Angelman syndrome, the maternal copy is mutated or missing, so their brain cells express no active UBE3A protein. The drug developed by Ultragenyx and GeneTx, called GTX-102, is a short snippet of RNA called an antisense oligonucleotide that activates the paternal copy of UBE3A and aims to restore the protein to typical levels. Three other companies—Roche, Biogen, and Ionis—are pursuing similar therapies for the syndrome. On 26 October, Ultragenyx and GeneTx reported that the clinical trial had enrolled five individuals with Angelman syndrome, aged 5 to 15. The plan had been to administer to each participant a dose of GTX-102 once a month over four months. Researchers injected the drug directly into the nutrient-rich solution that envelops the brain and spinal cord through a site in the lower back. © 2020 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 11: Motor Control and Plasticity
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 4: Development of the Brain; Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 27572 - Posted: 11.07.2020

By Lydia Denworth, Spectrum, Brendan Borrell, Allyson Berent is a specialty veterinarian in New York City. She treats animals that other doctors cannot help. When no good therapies are available, she invents one. Cats and dogs consumed almost all of her time—until 6 years ago, when her second daughter was born. As a baby, Quincy appeared healthy and happy, smiling at an early age and giggling frequently. But during her first few months of life, she missed many developmental milestones: At 10 weeks, she was not making eye contact. When her parents waved toys in front of her, she stared blankly. She had trouble feeding. And when she was lying on her stomach, she could not lift her head. Doctors kept telling Berent and her husband to give it time, but the couple insisted on genetic testing: At 7 months old, their daughter was diagnosed with Angelman syndrome, a neurodevelopmental condition that affects as many as one in 12,000 people. Most people with Angelman syndrome have severe intellectual disability. They never talk or live an independent life. They experience seizures, gut issues, and sleeping and feeding difficulties. Due to balance and motor problems, they are usually unable or barely able to walk. Many also meet the diagnostic criteria for autism. Within days of learning her daughter’s diagnosis, Berent set herself a new goal: curing Quincy. With her medical background, she had no trouble parsing the scientific research on Angelman syndrome. She learned that it stems from a missing or mutated copy of a gene called UBE3A, which generates a protein essential for healthy brain activity. People inherit two copies of UBE3A, one from each parent, but the paternal copy is typically silent. In about 70% of people with Angelman, the maternal copy is absent, and they produce none of the protein. Many others with the syndrome have a small mutation in the mother’s copy, rendering it ineffective. © 2020 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 4: Development of the Brain
Link ID: 27528 - Posted: 10.16.2020

by Angie Voyles Askham Autism is a neurodevelopmental condition. Although it is diagnosed based on the presence of two core behaviors — restricted interests and repetitive behaviors, as well as difficulties with social interactions and communication — those traits are thought to arise because of alterations in how different parts of the brain form and connect to one another. No research has uncovered a ‘characteristic’ brain structure for autism, meaning that no single pattern of changes appears in every autistic person. Studies of brain structure often turn up dissimilar results — there is great variety across individuals in general. But some trends have begun to emerge for subsets of autistic people. These differences might one day provide some insight into how some autistic people’s brains function. They may also point to bespoke treatments for particular subtypes of autism. Here is what we know about how brain structure differs between people with and without autism. Which brain regions are known to be structurally different between autistic and non-autistic people? Children and adolescents with autism often have an enlarged hippocampus, the area of the brain responsible for forming and storing memories, several studies suggest, but it is unclear if that difference persists into adolescence and adulthood1,2. © 2020 Simons Foundation

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 4: Development of the Brain
Link ID: 27526 - Posted: 10.16.2020

by Angie Voyles Askham Autistic people share some brain structure differences with people who have other neuropsychiatric conditions, including schizophrenia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), according to a massive new brain-imaging study1. These shared differences stem from the atypical development of one particular type of neuron, the findings suggest. The results provide “further evidence that our understanding of autism can really be advanced by explicitly studying autism in the context of other disorders,” says Armin Raznahan, chief of the Section on Developmental Neurogenomics at the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland, who was not involved in the study. The researchers looked at brain scans from 28,321 people to identify structural changes associated with any of six conditions: autism, ADHD, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and schizophrenia. The team found that the brains of people with these conditions differ from controls in a specific way: They have similar patterns of thickness across the cortex, the brain’s outer layer. The cortical regions with the biggest differences in thickness are typically rich in a particular type of excitatory neuron. “We were able to put our fingers on what might be behind that commonality,” says lead researcher Tomas Paus, professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Toronto in Canada. “That was very exciting.” The work combined data from 145 cohorts within the Enhancing Neuroimaging Genetics through Meta-Analysis (ENIGMA) consortium, an international group of researchers who collect and analyze brain-scan data in a standardized way so that they can pool their results. © 2020 Simons Foundation

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 2: Functional Neuroanatomy: The Cells and Structure of the Nervous System
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 4: Development of the Brain; Chapter 2: Neurophysiology: The Generation, Transmission, and Integration of Neural Signals
Link ID: 27503 - Posted: 10.03.2020

by Peter Hess / Some preterm babies who are later diagnosed with autism show increasing developmental delays during infancy, according to a new study1. This distinct pattern could help doctors identify autism in preterm babies and start them on therapies in infancy, says Li-Wen Chen, pediatric neurologist at National Cheng Kung University College of Medicine in Taiwan, who designed and conducted the study. About 7 percent of children born preterm are autistic, compared with 1 to 2 percent of children in the general population. Researchers cannot accurately predict which preterm babies are most likely to be later diagnosed with the condition, however. The new study tracked ‘very preterm’ babies — meaning those born more than 8 weeks prematurely and weighing 3.3 pounds or less — from birth to 5 years old. It shows that preterm autistic babies’ development deviates significantly from that of their non-autistic peers starting at 6 months of age. This split could flag preterm babies in need of behavioral interventions well before the typical age of an autism diagnosis, which is about 4 years in the United States. “This early trajectory work is really very valuable, because it means you shouldn’t be making predictions based on single observations,” says Neil Marlow, professor of neonatal medicine at University College London in the United Kingdom, who was not involved in the work. Autistic children who are born preterm score lower on measures of nonverbal behaviors important for social interactions than do autistic children who are born full-term, according to previous work by Chen’s team2. Those results also showed that autism traits are more similar among preterm children than among full-term children. © 2020 Simons Foundation

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 4: Development of the Brain
Link ID: 27493 - Posted: 09.28.2020