Links for Keyword: Autism

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A new study in Neuron offers clues to why autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is more common in boys than in girls. National Institutes of Health scientists found that a single amino acid change in the NLGN4 gene, which has been linked to autism symptoms, may drive this difference in some cases. The study was conducted at NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). Researchers led by Katherine Roche, Ph.D., a neuroscientist at NINDS, compared two NLGN4 genes, (one on the X chromosome and one on the Y chromosome), which are important for establishing and maintaining synapses, the communication points between neurons. Every cell in our body contains two sex chromosomes. Females have two X chromosomes; males have one X and one Y chromosome. Until now, it was assumed that the NLGN4X and NLGN4Y genes, which encode proteins that are 97% identical, functioned equally well in neurons. But using a variety of advanced technology including biochemistry, molecular biology, and imaging tools, Dr. Roche and her colleagues discovered that the proteins encoded by these genes display different functions. The NLGN4Y protein is less able to move to the cell surface in brain cells and is therefore unable to assemble and maintain synapses, making it difficult for neurons to send signals to one another. When the researchers fixed the error in cells in a dish, they restored much of its correct function. “We really need to look at NLGN4X and NLGN4Y more carefully,” said Thien A. Nguyen, Ph.D., first author of the study and former graduate student in Dr. Roche’s lab.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 27165 - Posted: 04.03.2020

by Laura Dattaro / Mice missing an autism gene called SHANK3 respond to much lighter touches than typical mice do, according to a new study1. And this hypersensitivity seems to result from the underactivity of neurons that normally dampen sensory responses. The study is the first to examine sensory sensitivity in mice missing SHANK3. Mice with mutations in other genes tied to autism, including MECP2 and GABRB3, have also been shown to be hypersensitive to puffs of air blown onto their backs. Up to 90 percent of autistic people have sensory problems, including hypersensitivity to sensations such as sound or touch. These disruptions may underlie many of the difficulties autistic people face in navigating the world, says lead investigator Guoping Feng, professor of neuroscience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “Sensory overload is one of the reasons that autistic people cover their ears, [hide] in corners, want to be quiet,” Feng says. “It’s important to understand mechanisms.” Up to 2 percent of people with autism have a mutation in SHANK3, which encodes a protein needed for neurons to communicate with one another2. Autism is also common in people with Phelan-McDermid syndrome, a condition caused by deletions of the chromosomal region in which SHANK3 is located. Other experts also say the study underscores the importance of studying sensory problems in autistic people. “Hyperreactivity to sensory input might be connected with autism in a really deep way,” says Sam Wang, professor of neuroscience at Princeton University, who was not involved in the work. “If sensory experience in the first few years of life is necessary for setting up a model of the world, an understanding of the world, then sensory processing would be a gateway to all kinds of other difficulties.” © 2020 Simons Foundation

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 8: General Principles of Sensory Processing, Touch, and Pain
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development; Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 27151 - Posted: 03.30.2020

Peter Hess The coronavirus pandemic has shuttered universities and institutes, leaving scientists scrambling to continue their research. Hundreds of colleges and universities in the United States have dispatched students home and are aiming to transition to remote learning. Scientific organizations are canceling conferences or moving them online. And scientists have had to put research projects and clinical trials on hold. These decisions—all done with the intention of slowing the pandemic—may stall and stymie research, with long-term consequences for the field. It may also hurt career prospects for graduate students who rely on conference presentations to gain exposure. “From everything that we’re seeing, this isn’t like a two-week hiatus,” says Helen Egger, chair of the child and adolescent psychiatry department at NYU Langone Health in New York City. “We’re in the middle of the hurricane, and there’s no indication how much worse it’s going to get or when it will end.” One long-term benefit is that the crisis may give universities and professional organizations a crash course in embracing technology. “These types of experiences—as long as we are having them, unfortunately—are giving autism [researchers] and other researchers more skills to be able to have online conferences and online teaching as needed,” says Steven Kapp, lecturer in psychology at the University of Portsmouth in the United Kingdom. Backup plans: Some labs were prepared to meet the challenge, and they quickly put their emergency plans into place when news of the pandemic intensified. But, illustrating how rapidly the situation is changing, some of their plans derailed over the weekend. © 1986–2020 The Scientist

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 1: Introduction: Scope and Outlook; Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 1: An Introduction to Brain and Behavior; Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 27132 - Posted: 03.21.2020

By Scott Barry Kaufman For many years, researchers have treated the individual traits and characteristics of autistic people as an enduring essence of their autism-- in isolation of the social context and without even asking autistic people what their social life is actually like. However, perspective matters. Who is to say it's autistic people who are the "awkward" ones? A number of myths about autistic people abound. For one, it's a great myth that autistic people lack empathy. This is how they were depicted for so many years in the clinical literature and in the media-- as emotionless, socially clueless robots. However, the more you get to know an autistic person, the more you realize just how caring they can be, even though they may have some difficulties reading social cues. As Steve Silberman points out, empathy is a two-way street. Another common misconception is that autistic people aren't social. I really like some recent approaches that add greater complexity to this issue, showing that when you take a contextual strengths-based approach you can see that people on the autism spectrum are much more social than researchers ever realized. The lens upon which we look at a person matters. As Megan Clark and Dawn Adams put it, "When autism is viewed through a deficit lens the strengths, positive attributes and interests of individuals on the spectrum can be overshadowed." In one recent study, Clark and Adams asked 83 children on the autism spectrum (aged 8 to 15 years) various questions about themselves. When asked "What do you like most about yourself?", the most common themes were "I am a good friend or person to be around" and "I am good at particular things."When asked "What do you enjoy the most?", one of the most endorsed themes was social interaction. © 2020 Scientific American

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 27121 - Posted: 03.16.2020

Joanna Moorhead For artist and writer Charlotte Amelia Poe, 30, every day feels like a walk across a frozen pond. “It’s how it’s always been,” she explains. “You’re trying to navigate it and stay safe, but you’re aware that at any moment the ice is likely to crack, and at that point you will sink into the water.” The worst of it is that, when she feels that way, she has no idea how she can avoid going under. “You think you’re doing fine and you’re treading carefully enough not to crack the ice. But suddenly you’ve gone under. You’ve got it completely wrong – and you’ve no idea why.” Poe is describing how it feels to be autistic. She wants the rest of us to understand, she says, because it really matters, perhaps more than it’s ever mattered (of which more later). Her mission to break open the mystery of how it feels to be autistic has already been impressively successful: last year she won the Spectrum art prize for her video piece How To Be Autistic and recently she wrote a book of the same name. Her hope is that, by opening up about her own journey through childhood, school and adolescence, she can change other people’s perceptions and expectations about what autism is like, from the inside. We are talking in the sitting room of the semi-detached house overlooking a Suffolk field that Poe shares with three generations of her family. She has never left home and doesn’t expect to; her nephews and niece are playing outside in the garden, and one day their mother, her sister, will be her carer in the way that her parents are at the moment. © 2020 Guardian News & Media Limited

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 27120 - Posted: 03.16.2020

Abby Olena Researchers have shown previously that excessive proliferation of the cells of the brain, which can cause macrocephaly, or large head size, is associated with autism. Now, the authors of a study published in Cell Stem Cell last week (January 30) have connected that overgrowth with replication stress, subsequent DNA damage, and dysfunction in neural progenitor cells derived from induced pluripotent stem cells from patients with autism spectrum disorder. “It is striking,” Bjoern Schwer, a molecular biologist at the University of California, San Francisco, who studies DNA repair and genomic stability in neural cells and did not participate in the study, writes in an email to The Scientist. “These are fascinating findings with many implications for autism spectrum disorder—and potentially for other neurodevelopmental disorders too.” In 2016, a group led by Schwer and Frederick Alt of Boston Children’s Hospital showed that mice have clusters of double-strand DNA breaks in the genomes of their neural progenitor cells. These hotspots are concentrated in neural-specific genes, which tend to be longer than genes expressed in other cell types and have also been associated with neurological diseases. Rusty Gage, a neuroscientist at the Salk institute, Meiyan Wang, a graduate student in the Gage lab, and their colleagues collaborated with Alt to explore whether or not these same damaged clusters would show up in the genomes of human neural progenitor cells. Wang went to the Alt lab to learn how to map genome-wide double-strand breaks. Then, she used the technique on several neural progenitor cell lines that had been previously derived in the Gage lab: three from patients with macrocephalic autism spectrum disorder and three from neurotypical controls. © 1986–2020 The Scientist

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 27025 - Posted: 02.07.2020

Jon Hamilton Scientists have found a clue to how autism spectrum disorder disrupts the brain's information highways. The problem involves cells that help keep the traffic of signals moving smoothly through brain circuits, a team reported Monday in the journal Nature Neuroscience. The team found that in both mouse and human brains affected by autism, there's an abnormality in cells that produce a substance called myelin. That's a problem because myelin provides the "insulation" for brain circuits, allowing them to quickly and reliably carry electrical signals from one area to another. And having either too little or too much of this myelin coating can result in a wide range of neurological problems. For example, multiple sclerosis occurs when the myelin around nerve fibers is damaged. The results, which vary from person to person, can affect not only the signals that control muscles, but also the ones involved in learning and thinking. The finding could help explain why autism spectrum disorders include such a wide range of social and behavioral features, says Brady Maher, a lead investigator at the Lieber Institute for Brain Development and an associate professor in the psychiatry department at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. "Myelination could be a problem that ties all of these autism spectrum disorders together," Maher says. And if that's true, he says, it might be possible to prevent or even reverse the symptoms using drugs that affect myelination. © 2020 npr

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 3: Neurophysiology: The Generation, Transmission, and Integration of Neural Signals
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development; Chapter 3: Neurophysiology: The Generation, Transmission, and Integration of Neural Signals
Link ID: 27019 - Posted: 02.04.2020

Ashley Yeager About four years ago, pathologist Matthew Anderson was examining slices of postmortem brain tissue from an individual with autism under a microscope when he noticed something extremely odd: T cells swarming around a narrow space between blood vessels and neural tissue. The cells were somehow getting through the blood-brain barrier, a wall of cells that separates circulating blood from extracellular fluid, neurons, and other cell types in the central nervous system, explains Anderson, who works at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. “I just have seen so many brains that I know that this is not normal.” He soon identified more T-cell swarms, called lymphocytic cuffs, in a few other postmortem brains of people who had been diagnosed with autism. Not long after that, he started to detect another oddity in the brain tissue—tiny bubbles, or blebs. “I’d never seen them in any other brain tissue that I’ve looked at for many, many different diseases,” he says. Anderson began to wonder whether the neurological features he was observing were specific to autism. To test the idea, he and his colleagues examined postmortem brain tissue samples from 25 people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and 30 developmentally normal controls. While the lymphocytic cuffs only sporadically turned up in the brains of neurotypical individuals, the cuffs were abundant in a majority of the brains from individuals who had had ASD. Those same samples also had blebs that appeared in the same spots as the cuffs. Staining the brain tissue revealed that the cuffs were filled with an array of different types of T cells, while the blebs contained fragments of astrocytes, non-neuronal cells that support the physical structure of the brain and help to maintain the blood-brain barrier. © 1986–2020 The Scientist

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development; Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 26966 - Posted: 01.17.2020

By Perri Klass, M.D. In December, the American Academy of Pediatrics put out a new clinical report on autism, an extensive document with an enormous list of references, summarizing 12 years of intense research and clinical activity. During this time, the diagnostic categories changed — Asperger’s syndrome and pervasive developmental disorder, diagnostic categories that once included many children, are no longer used, and we now consider all these children (and adults) to have autism spectrum disorder, or A.S.D. The salient diagnostic characteristics of A.S.D. are persistent problems with social communication, including problems with conversation, with nonverbal communication and social cues, and with relationships, together with restricted repetitive behavior patterns, including repetitive movements, rigid routines, fixated interests and sensory differences. Dr. Susan Hyman, the lead author on the new report, who is the division chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Golisano Children’s Hospital at the University of Rochester, said in an email that much has changed over the past 12 years. She pointed in particular to increased medical awareness and understanding of conditions that often occur together with A.S.D., and to a greater emphasis on planning — together with families — how to support children as they grow. Dr. Susan E. Levy, a co-author of the statement who is a developmental behavioral pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said that one key message of the report is the emphasis on early identification and referral for treatment, even if a diagnosis of autism is suspected but not yet confirmed. The outcomes are better when treatment starts as early as possible, she said. The average age of diagnosis is now around 4 years, but the goal is to get it well under 2, she said. And children who are at higher risk — for example, those whose siblings have A.S.D. — should receive especially close screening and attention. © 2020 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 26940 - Posted: 01.07.2020

By Donald McCarthy I lived only half a childhood. Friendships were difficult, because I often did not know what to say. I had little patience for small talk and a dislike of new situations. Thrust into unfamiliar surroundings, my whole body would warm, my hands would shake, and I would feel a tightening in my chest and a deep, almost primal urge to scream. Even as an adult, I felt like I viewed reality through a foggy window. I thought it was simply me — that my personality was just odd — and I would need to learn to cope with the fact that I did not fit in well with most people. Then, at age 28, I was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). My diagnosis was a relief. Suddenly, I knew why I felt the way I did, and why I had a hard time living the way others did. But I can only imagine how much better my life would have been if I had been diagnosed as a child and had the chance to understand myself at a younger age. Might I have made emotional connections with my peers, instead of just with Bruce Springsteen songs and characters in Stephen King novels? It turns out I’m not alone. Many people go more than half of their lives before learning that they are autistic; the exact number remains a mystery, as research on adults with autism has been scarce. Although public awareness of ASD and its symptoms has improved in recent decades, many children still slip through the cracks, especially girls and children of color. We as a society have the power and resources to change that; all we need is the will. Consider the science: There is little question among psychologists specializing in autism that an early diagnosis can change a person’s life for the better. Therapy aimed at reworking the way a young person with ASD thinks and comprehends has shown success. Children who undergo therapy see results that allow them to curb undesirable behavior, improve social interactions, and better their own quality of life.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 26856 - Posted: 11.29.2019

By Michele C. Hollow As soon as James Griffin gets off the school bus he tells his mom, “Go dance, go dance.” James is 14 and has autism, and his speech is limited. He’s a participant in a program for children on the autism spectrum at the University of Delaware that is studying how dance affects behavior and verbal, social and motor skills. One afternoon while dancing, he spun around, looked at his mother, smiled and shouted, “I love you.” His mom, Rachelan Griffin, said she had waited his whole life to hear him say those words. “I think that the program is a big part of that, because he was dancing when he said it,” she said. According to Anjana Bhat, an associate professor in the department of physical therapy at the University of Delaware, “Parents report that their children with autism enjoy musical activities and show more positive interactions with others through greater eye contact, smiling and speaking after engaging in a dance and music program.” James is one of about a dozen children on the autism spectrum who meet individually with Dr. Bhat’s graduate and undergraduate students for the dance study, which also uses yoga and musical activities. Some children also participated in robotic therapy, in which a humanoid robot helps them learn to follow dance moves. “Across many different studies we find that social skills like smiling and verbalization are substantially higher when children with autism engage in socially embedded movements versus sedentary games like checkers or building a Lego set,” Dr. Bhat said. © 2019 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 26835 - Posted: 11.20.2019

Lorenz Wagner Henry Markram, the neuroscientist behind the billion-dollar Blue Brain Project to build a supercomputer model of the brain, has set the goal of decoding all disturbances of the mind within a generation. This quest is personal for him. The driving force behind his grand ambition has been his son Kai, who suffers from autism. Raising Kai made Henry Markram question all that he thought he knew about neuroscience, and then inspired his groundbreaking research that would upend the conventional wisdom about autism, leading to his now-famous theory of the Intense World Syndrome. When Kai was first diagnosed, his father consulted studies and experts. He knew as much about the human brain as almost anyone but still felt as helpless as any parent confronted with this condition in his child. What’s more, the scientific consensus that autism was a deficit of empathy didn’t mesh with Markram’s experience of his son. He became convinced that the disorder, which has seen a 657 percent increase in diagnoses over the past decade, was fundamentally misunderstood. Bringing his world-class research to bear on the problem, he devised a radical new theory of the disorder: People like Kai don’t feel too little; they feel too much. Their senses are too delicate for this world. The following is an extract condensed from "The Boy Who Felt Too Much: How a Renowned Neuroscientist Changed Our View of Autism Forever," by Lorenz Wagner, just out from Arcade Publishing, which tells this remarkable story. The car was coasting. Kai heard the wheels crunch as it drew to a halt outside his house. The car door opened, and a young man hopped out. He popped the hood and disappeared beneath it. “You’ve got to be kidding me!” he fumed. © 2019 Salon.com, LLC

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 26828 - Posted: 11.18.2019

By Jonathan Lambert Prozac, a commonly prescribed medication for kids and teens with autism, is no more effective than a placebo at treating obsessive-compulsive behaviors, a small study finds. The results of the randomized clinical trial, published October 22 in JAMA, cast further doubt on the widespread practice of prescribing a class of antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, to treat children with autism who have these behaviors, says pediatric neurologist Ann Neumeyer. “We really don’t have any good medications that have yet been studied in children with autism for these behaviors,” says Neumeyer, the medical director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Lurie Center for Autism in Lexington, who wasn’t involved in the study. “That’s a problem.” Autism spectrum disorders encompass a diversity of symptoms, but common among them are obsessive-compulsive behaviors (SN: 10/16/18). Individuals with autism can become hyperfocused on specific ideas or objects and can engage in ritualistic “tics,” such as rocking or hand-waving. For many individuals, these symptoms interfere with everyday functioning. SSRI antidepressants account for a quarter to a third of all prescriptions to children and teens with autism, according to pediatrician Dinah Reddihough at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Melbourne, Australia. “Despite their widespread use, there is no evidence of effectiveness of SSRIs for autism spectrum disorders in children,” she says. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2019.

Related chapters from BN8e: 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, Learning, and Development; Chapter 12: Psychopathology: The Biology of Behavioral Disorders
Link ID: 26738 - Posted: 10.23.2019

by Emily Anthes The Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative, launched by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 2013, has a lofty goal: to unravel the cellular basis of cognition and behavior. Since the initiative’s launch, the NIH has doled out about $1 billion to researchers who are developing tools and technologies to map, measure and observe the brain’s neural circuits. Along the way, the agency has also tried to explore the ethical implications of this research. Khara Ramos, who directs the neuroethics program at the NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, described the emerging field of neuroethics today at the 2019 Society for Neuroscience annual meeting in Chicago, Illinois. Spectrum: Was discussion about ethics part of the BRAIN Initiative from the beginning? Khara Ramos: We knew that we needed to do something with neuroethics, but it took time for us to figure out what exactly, in part because neuroethics is a relatively new field. Bioethics is a broad field that covers all aspects of biomedicine, but there isn’t specialization of bioethics in kidney research or pulmonary research the way there is in neuroscience research, and that’s really because the brain is so intimately connected with who we are. Neuroscience research raises these unique ethical questions, such as: How might new neurotechnologies alter fundamental notions of agency or autonomy or identity? We’re starting to focus on data sharing and privacy from a philosophical, conceptual perspective: Is there something unique about brain data that is different from, for instance, genetic data? How do researchers themselves feel about data sharing and privacy? And how does the public view it? For instance, is my social security number more or less sensitive than the kinds of neural data that somebody might be able to get if I were participating in a clinical trial? © 2019 Simons Foundation

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development; Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 26725 - Posted: 10.21.2019

Sandra G. Boodman The July day wasn’t too steamy — a rarity in Madison, Ala. — and her toddler’s physical therapy session wasn’t scheduled for another hour, so Jeannette Vega thought she’d take 26-month-old Tiana outside to play in their yard. Immediately, she was struck by her younger daughter’s difficulty climbing up the sturdy low-slung plastic slide, something Tiana had been able to do with ease only a week earlier. To distract her, Jeannette opened the door of the family’s truck. “Come on, let’s get in and buckle up,” she remembers saying. Tiana took particular delight in clambering into her car seat and fastening her seat belt. Not this time. The little girl seemed rooted to the ground, impervious to her mother's encouragement. "It wasn't that she wouldn't [comply]," Jeannette recalled of the 2015 incident. "I could tell she just couldn't." Later that afternoon, she mentioned Tiana's difficulties to the physical therapist who had been working with the little girl for more than a year to try to overcome her significant, unexplained developmental delays. “This isn’t normal, to regress after so many months of therapy,” Jeannette, now 37, remembers the therapist telling her. She mentioned a disorder Jeannette had never heard of and suggested it might be the cause. Jeannette did a quick search, dismissed the possibility and said she “forgot about it.” But the first anguished words she blurted out nearly a half-year later on that shattering day in the specialist’s office when she learned what was wrong, was that the therapist had been right.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 26697 - Posted: 10.14.2019

Jef Akst In the past few years, a number of high-profile studies have linked parental age at birth, and paternal age in particular, with a child’s autism risk. Walid Yassin, a neuropsychiatric researcher at the University of Tokyo, wanted to know if having older parents correlated with characteristics of the brain that have been linked to autism. When Yassin and his colleagues examined the brain scans of 39 adult males with high-functioning autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and of 37 typically developing males, they found that paternal age correlated with characteristics of the white matter in regions of the brain responsible for social interactions in analyses of all 76 individuals. Specifically, in the men with older fathers, these areas had higher radial diffusivity, a measure of water diffusing toward the axonal membrane instead of along the axon, suggesting damage to nerve cells’ myelin sheaths, says Yassin. “And such difference in radial diffusivity has been previously reported in ASD.” Magdalena Janecka, an epidemiologist who specializes in autism at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, applauds the study’s focus on the brain. “We have a lot of epidemiological associations . . . but what [underlies them] is still very much underexplored,” she says. “The authors did a great job at exploring the mechanism that could connect the two.” But Janecka adds that the results can’t distinguish whether the link between age and autism is due to an accumulation of mutations in the sperm of older men, or if men who choose to have children later in life are enriched for certain traits associated with autism. “Is the effect we’re observing due to age or is it due to some underlying propensity of men who delay fatherhood?” she asks. © 1986–2019 The Scientist.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 26690 - Posted: 10.11.2019

Jessica Wright Delicate lines dance across a screen mounted on the wall of the operating room. Their peaks and valleys become pronounced, suddenly flatten into a straight line—and then return, stronger than before. These digital traces represent the buzz of neurons in 12-year-old Kevin Lightner, read by two thin electrodes that surgeons have inserted deep into his brain. Kevin, who has autism and has had seizures since he was 8 years old, lies uncharacteristically still in the center of the room, draped under a blue sheet, his tiger-print pajamas neatly folded on a nearby shelf. What’s happening in this room may be the last chance to bring Kevin’s seizures under control. An hour and a half ago, neurosurgeon Saadi Ghatan removed a roughly 2-inch by 1-inch piece of the top of Kevin’s skull. He replaced it with a rectangular metal device, carefully screwed into the newly exposed edges of bone. The implant, a “responsive neurostimulation device,” is now transmitting signals from the electrodes planted in Kevin’s thalamus. The surgeons’ hope is that the device will learn to recognize what kind of brain activity precedes Kevin’s seizures and discharge electrical pulses to prevent them—like a “defibrillator for the brain,” as Ghatan puts it. If it works, it could save Kevin’s life. Ghatan projects the device’s readout to the screen by gently placing a black wand over the exposed metal in Kevin’s skull. The signal on the screen is surprisingly strong, given that it stems from the thalamus, a brain region that reveals its activity only weakly, if at all—and so is rarely the choice for monitoring seizures. © 1986–2019 The Scientist.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 3: Neurophysiology: The Generation, Transmission, and Integration of Neural Signals
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development; Chapter 3: Neurophysiology: The Generation, Transmission, and Integration of Neural Signals
Link ID: 26687 - Posted: 10.10.2019

Ariana Eunjung Cha After Danielle Rizzo’s first son and then her second were diagnosed with autism, she has struggled with the how and why. She wondered whether she could have prevented the condition in her second child by putting him on a gluten-free and casein-free diet. Did she have her children, born 14 months apart, too close together? She even held off on vaccinating her younger son before he, too, was diagnosed not long after the first. (The supposed link between vaccines and autism has been debunked by extensive research. The American Academy of Pediatrics; National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and other medical groups have compiled some of the many scientific papers.) Rizzo came to suspect a genetic link involving the sperm donor for both children, after finding several other children conceived with the same donor’s sperm who have also been diagnosed with autism or related developmental challenges. A geneticist with expertise in autism identified possible autism-risk genes carried by the children. Her story, in a report published by The Washington Post on Sept. 14, prompted an outpouring of comments and questions — legal, scientific and ethical — about her case. While there is no central database of donors and their children in the United States, some sperm banks try to mitigate risks of donors passing on genetic conditions by testing them for up to 400 common heritable conditions. However, genetic testing is not required and is by no means comprehensive, as evident by the case studies reported in medical journals regularly.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 26671 - Posted: 10.04.2019

Saba Salman As a graduate in the 1980s, Simon Baron‑Cohen taught autistic children at a special school in London. Little was known about autism then, and people often misheard him, assuming he taught “artistic children”. “People would be ashamed if they had an autistic child, or ashamed of saying, ‘I am autistic’, whereas now it’s treated as more ordinary and there’s less judgment,” he says. “In the 1980s, autism was seen as categorical, so ‘you either have it or you don’t’ … nowadays, we talk about a spectrum.” Today, Baron-Cohen, 61, is a world expert on autism, a Cambridge professor and director of the university’s influential Autism Research Centre. There is also greater awareness of autism, a lifelong condition affecting how people interact or process information. Estimates suggest one in every 100 people is on the autism spectrum (700,000 adults and children), from those with severe developmental disabilities needing intense support, to those with milder traits. Well-known autistic people include campaigner Greta Thunberg (who calls her “difference” a superpower). As a cognitive neuroscientist, Baron-Cohen has helped focus attention, from his pioneering psychological studies (autism was first diagnosed in the 1960s in the UK) to founding the UK’s first diagnosis clinic in Cambridge 20 years ago with charitable funding (today the centre is NHS-run). Yet his latest research reflects how improved awareness and understanding of autism have not led to improvements in the lives of people with autism. In the studyexploring how autistic adults experience disproportionately more “negative life events”, 45% of the 426 participants say they often lack money to meet basic needs (compared with 25% of non-autistic people) and 20% have been sexually abused by a partner (compared with 9%). The research, involving questionnaires created with autistic people, suggests why those with autism may experience more depression. © 2019 Guardian News & Media Limited

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 26664 - Posted: 10.02.2019

By Perri Klass, M.D. Cesarean delivery can save a baby — or a mother — at a moment of medical danger. However, cesarean births have been linked to an increased risk of various long-term health issues for both women and children, and a recent study shows an association between cesarean birth and the risk of developing autism or attention deficit disorder. The study, published in August in JAMA Network Open, was a meta-analysis. It looked at data from 61 previously published studies, which together included more than 20 million deliveries, and found that birth by cesarean section was associated with a 33 percent higher risk of autism and a 17 percent higher risk of attention deficit disorder. The increased risk was present for both planned and unplanned cesarean deliveries. The first and most important thing to say is that these were observational studies, and that association is not the same as causation. The children born by cesarean section may be different in important ways from the children born vaginally, and those differences may include factors that could affect their later neurodevelopment, from maternal health issues to developmental problems already present during pregnancy to prematurity to difficult deliveries. If your child was born by cesarean section, there’s nothing you can do to change that, and knowing about this association may make you worry, while if you’re pregnant it may make you even more anxious about how the delivery will go. But the information about long-term associations and mode of birth should help to drive further research and understanding of how and why these associations play out. Tianyang Zhang, a Ph.D. student in clinical neuroscience at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm who was the first author on the article, said that earlier research had shown various associations between cesarean delivery and long-term health problems, including higher rates of obesity and asthma in children. This study looked at a range of developmental and mental health issues. Though it did find an association between cesarean delivery and autism spectrum and attention deficit disorders, it did not find significant associations with others, such as tic disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders or eating disorders. © 2019 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN8e: 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, Learning, and Development; Chapter 9: Homeostasis: Active Regulation of the Internal Environment
Link ID: 26638 - Posted: 09.23.2019