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By Dina Fine Maron Suspicions of a link between prenatal ultrasound scans and autism spectrum disorder are nothing new. The technology has exploded in recent decades, giving expectant parents more detailed images of their developing offspring than ever before. And as ultrasound use has sharply increased, so too have diagnoses of autism—prompting questions about a potential relationship. A rigorous new study examining the association between ultrasounds during the first or second trimester of pregnancy and later development of autism spectrum disorder, however, delivers some good news. The study, which analyzed the medical records and ultrasound details of more than 400 kids who were born at Boston Medical Center, found there was no increase in the number of prenatal scans or duration of ultrasound exposure in children with autism compared with kids with typical development or separate developmental delays. In fact, the group with autism had less average exposure time during its first and second trimesters of development than individuals without autism did. The finding adds weight to earlier studies that suggested such scans—which use high-frequency sound waves to create an image of the fetus, placenta and surrounding maternal organs—are not a powerful enough environmental risk to cause autism on their own. But the new study, published Monday in JAMA Pediatrics, did leave one question unanswered: Does the depth of the actual ultrasound scan make a difference? The work found the children with autism were exposed to prenatal ultrasounds with greater penetration than the control group: During the first trimester, the group with autism had scans with an average depth of 12.5 centimeters compared with 11.6 centimeters for the control group. And during the second trimester the group with autism had scan depths of 12.9 centimeters compared with 12.5 centimeters for the typical development control group. Ultrasounds may not be uniform for reasons including the position of the fetus in the womb. © 2018 Scientific American

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 5: Hormones and the Brain
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development; Chapter 8: Hormones and Sex
Link ID: 24655 - Posted: 02.13.2018

Lee Burdette Williams The call came from a former colleague who coaches college students on the autism spectrum. “We’ve got someone who’s in trouble, and we could use some advice. It’s one of those Title IX things.” She told me the story. The student loves punk music and wanted to start a band. He put up fliers on the campus, which in itself was an issue because he violated the institutional posting policy. But even in today’s climate, I thought, that doesn’t usually rise to a Title IX complaint. She continued. “He wrote something in Morse code on the flyer, a message directed to women, because he was trying to recruit some to join the band. It was a little ‘stalky-creepy’ -- OK, pretty creepy -- but this guy is totally harmless and clueless and just doesn’t know how to meet women.” My first reaction was to smile. Morse code? How many college students even know what it is? But it didn’t surprise me to learn this about a student with Asperger’s syndrome, the commonly used term for those with high-functioning autism. Indeed, this kind of situation, I have come to realize, exemplifies a disastrous nexus of two trends on college campuses: the increased awareness of Title IX’s expectations for student behavior and institutional response, and the growing number of students with a diagnosis (or simply just characteristics) of autism who are attending college. I imagined the student had learned Morse code at the age of 5 and was no doubt still fluent in it. In his mind, a wondrous place created by the distinct neural connections common among those with this diagnosis, the use of Morse code to signal his interest in meeting women made perfect sense. To those who know him, it is one of many quirky characteristics -- some of them sweet, some of them annoying -- that require a bit of translation for him and about him as he moves within the world of higher education. © 2018

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 5: Hormones and the Brain
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development; Chapter 8: Hormones and Sex
Link ID: 24644 - Posted: 02.12.2018

By Jessica Wright Nearly 20 years ago, a new strain of mice debuted in a California laboratory. The mice were missing a gene called SCN2A that helps neurons transmit electrical currents. And the study announcing their genesis was the last word on the matter for many years. About a decade later, the mouse’s creator, Maurice Montal, sacrificed the few animals left from the colony. He had sent some of his mice to other researchers, and some ended up with a team in Houston, Texas. But they, too, eventually stopped working with the strain. Perhaps the only one who continued to work with the mice was a postdoctoral researcher named Edward Glasscock, who brought the mice from Houston to the University of Louisiana when he launched his own lab. After years of work, Glasscock found that a mutation in SCN2A can muffle the effect of another mutation that triggers sudden death in people with epilepsy. That turned out to be only the beginning of the mice’s comeback. In June 2016, Kevin Bender, an autism researcher, sent Glasscock an urgent request asking for the mice. Requests from two other autism researchers quickly followed. Soon the mice were populating labs in San Francisco, Baltimore, and France. “I was surprised that there would be such a rush to get them,” says Glasscock, assistant professor of cellular biology and anatomy at Louisiana State University. “Back when I first started working with the mice, it would never have been on my radar that they would have been an important gene for autism.” © 1986-2018 The Scientist

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 5: Hormones and the Brain
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development; Chapter 8: Hormones and Sex
Link ID: 24586 - Posted: 01.30.2018

By Jessica Wright, The prevalence of autism in the United States remained relatively stable from 2014 to 2016, according to a new analysis. The results were published January 2 in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The researchers report the frequency of autism in the U.S. as 2.24 percent in 2014, 2.41 percent in 2015 and 2.76 percent in 2016, respectively. The new data come from the National Health Interview Survey—a yearly interview in which trained census workers ask tens of thousands of parents about the health of their children. These questions include whether a healthcare professional has ever told them that their child has autism. The new figures, released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), represent the highest autism prevalence in the U.S. reported by the agency to date. “We cannot consider autism as rare a condition as people previously thought,” says lead researcher Wei Bao, assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Iowa. The peak is likely to result from the fact that the data are based on parent reports. These reports may capture children with relatively mild autism features better than do approaches that rely on medical records, Bao says. Autism’s reported prevalence in the U.S. has climbed steadily in the past few decades. Researchers attribute most of this increase to changes in how the prevalence is measured, increased awareness of the condition and shifts in the criteria for diagnosing autism. © 2018 Scientific American,

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 5: Hormones and the Brain
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development; Chapter 8: Hormones and Sex
Link ID: 24522 - Posted: 01.12.2018

By Emily Anthes Men with autism respond differently to human odors — and the social signals that they contain — than do their neurotypical peers, according to a new study. The results suggest that men with autism misread social signals present in human odors — causing them to misinterpret others’ emotions. Human sweat contains chemicals believed to convey social and emotional information. For instance, when women smell sweat collected from men watching scary movies, they are more likely to describe faces with ambiguous expressions as fearful. Advertisement In the new study, researchers exposed men to sweat collected from people who were skydiving. Unlike controls, men with autism do not show increased skin conductance, a measure of physiological arousal, to this ‘fear sweat.’ They are also more likely than controls to trust a mannequin that emits this scent. “I think this could be a meaningful aspect of impaired social interaction,” says lead investigator Noam Sobel, professor of neurobiology at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel. “Humans constantly engage in social chemo-signaling; we do this all the time, and it shapes our interactions,” he says. “And somehow these mechanisms work differently in autism.” Several studies have examined olfaction in people with autism. Researchers have found, for example, that children with autism inhale odors differently than their typical peers do, and some children with the condition may be particularly sensitive to smells. © 2017 Scientific American

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 9: Hearing, Vestibular Perception, Taste, and Smell
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development; Chapter 6: Hearing, Balance, Taste, and Smell
Link ID: 24459 - Posted: 12.26.2017

By Sarah DeWeerdt Older men and women are more likely than young ones to have a child with autism, according to multiple studies published in the past decade. Especially regarding fathers, this effect is one of the most consistent findings in the epidemiology of autism. The link between a mother’s age and autism is more complex: Women seem to be at an increased risk both when they are much older and much younger than average, according to some studies. Nailing down why either parent’s age influences autism risk has proved difficult, however. How do we know that older men are at elevated risk of fathering a child with autism? Epidemiologists have gathered data on large numbers of families and calculated how often men of different ages have a child with autism. The first rigorous study of this type, published in 2006, drew on medical records of 132,000 Israeli adolescents. It showed that men in their 30s were 1.6 times as likely to have a child with autism as men younger than 30. Men in their 40s had a sixfold increase in risk. Since then, scientists have conducted similar analyses of data on children born in California, Denmark and Sweden, as well as of an international data set on 5.7 million children. Nearly all of this research has shown an increased prevalence of autism among the children of older fathers. At what age does the risk increase for men? No one knows. The age ranges and ages of the men differ across studies, making results hard to compare. Overall, the findings indicate that the risk increases steadily over time rather than suddenly rising after a certain age. © 1996-2017 The Washington Post

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 5: Hormones and the Brain
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development; Chapter 8: Hormones and Sex
Link ID: 24436 - Posted: 12.18.2017

By Shawna Williams While humans aren’t as smell-dependent as many other animals, studies have shown we respond differently to others when they’re emitting certain olfactory signals—even if we can’t consciously detect them. In a study published today in Nature Neuroscience, researchers find that men with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) sometimes respond differently to these chemical cues in human sweat than do people without the disorder, indicating that such responses may partly explain the disorder’s symptoms. In one experiment, the researchers asked 20 men with ASD and 20 typical men to perform cognitive tasks while they smelled either pads with sweat from skydivers (which contained high levels of cortisol, indicating fearfulness), or pads with no sweat. Just a few participants in each group reported being able to consciously detect scent from the sweat-infused pads, but the men in the non-ASD group showed an increase in electrodermal activity, a proxy for an aroused nervous system, while ASD participants did not. To see what effect the smell of fear might have on behavior, the researchers rigged up two mannequins to “talk” and emit the odor of either fear-related sweat or workout sweat. Participants received clues from the mannequins on how to complete a task, and the researchers measured their performance on the task as a measure of trust. “[W]e observed a dissociation whereby [typically developed] participants had increased trust in the control-smell [mannequin], yet ASD participants had increased trust in the fear-smell [mannequin],” the study’s authors write. © 1986-2017 The Scientist

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 5: Hormones and the Brain; Chapter 9: Hearing, Vestibular Perception, Taste, and Smell
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 8: Hormones and Sex; Chapter 6: Hearing, Balance, Taste, and Smell
Link ID: 24374 - Posted: 11.29.2017

By Sarah DeWeerdt, Young adults with autism have an unusual gait and problems with fine motor skills. Researchers presented the unpublished findings today at the 2017 Society for Neuroscience annual meeting in Washington, D.C. Motor problems such as clumsiness, toe-walking and altered gait are well documented in autism. But most studies have been limited to children or have included adults only as part of a broad age range. “Studies haven’t focused on just adults,” says Cortney Armitano, a graduate student in Steven Morrison’s lab at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, who presented the work. The researchers looked at 20 young adults with autism between the ages of about 17 and 25, and 20 controls of about the same age range. They put these participants through a battery of standard tests of fine motor skills, balance and walking. When it comes to simple tasks—such as tapping a finger rapidly against a hard surface or standing still without swaying—those with autism perform just as well as controls do. But with activities that require more back-and-forth between the brain and the rest of the body, differences emerge. Adults with autism have slower reaction times compared with controls, measured by how fast they can click a computer mouse in response to seeing a button light up. They also have a weaker grip. © 2017 Scientific American,

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 5: Hormones and the Brain; Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 8: Hormones and Sex; Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 24329 - Posted: 11.15.2017

By Emily Willingham In their October 23 opinion piece “Why Does Autism Impact Boys More Often Than Girls?” Renee Joy Dufault and Steven G. Gilbert attempt to argue that autism diagnoses are on the increase because of inorganic mercury content in processed foods. Going a step further, they try to construct a rationale for blaming mercury for the perceived bias in autism rates among boys compared to girls. Using the example of one observational study reporting that mercury affects chemical tagging of a single gene in one cell type differently in boys and girls, the pair constructs a fragile chain of putative links between this single study and their claim that “inorganic mercury has been rising for many years in American blood.” The claims are problematic on many levels, but let’s just take a trip to the ground floor: evidence. First, mercury levels in “American blood” and urine are decreasing, not increasing. The latest analysis of values of inorganic mercury in urine and total blood mercury, published online September 6 in Environmental Toxicology and Pharmacology, finds that from 2005 to 2012 among all age groups, urinary inorganic mercury decreased. Total blood mercury, which includes organic (carbon-bound) and inorganic forms, also decreased in all age groups during that time. These conclusions are based on data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). Meanwhile, other CDC data indicate that autism prevalence has increased. The trends for autism prevalence and mercury levels in people living in the United States are in opposite directions. © 2017 Scientific American

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 5: Hormones and the Brain; Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 8: Hormones and Sex; Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 24287 - Posted: 11.04.2017

By Renee Joy Dufault, Steven G. Gilbert According to the CDC, autism prevalence continues to climb with 8 year old boys afflicted 4.5 times more often than girls. What makes matters worse is the fact that many boys with autism are also diagnosed with ADHD. These disorders severely impact the learning process in the classroom environment and lead to a lifelong economic burden both for the afflicted individual and society. Researchers estimated the annual economic burden in the U.S. for autism alone in 2015 was $162-$367 billion. If the autism prevalence continues to rise, researchers predict the costs will likely exceed those of ADHD and diabetes by 2025. It is imperative that families receive the support they need to prevent and manage these disorders which often occur in tandem. Proper management requires an understanding of the causes or “risk factors.” One cause associated with both disorders is exposure to heavy metals found in a poor diet. Heavy metal exposures may occur from the consumption of highly processed foods that contain ingredients with allowable concentrations of lead and inorganic mercury. Furthermore, these heavy metals may accumulate in blood especially when diet does not include adequate minerals to support the gene activity needed to metabolize and excrete them. Researchers led by Alabdali recently found higher blood lead and mercury levels are correlated with the severity of social and cognitive impairment in children with autism. What this means is parents will have more difficulty managing their child with autism and ADHD as the mercury and/or lead concentration levels rise in his blood. © 2017 Scientific American

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 12: Sex: Evolutionary, Hormonal, and Neural Bases; Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 8: Hormones and Sex; Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 24234 - Posted: 10.24.2017

By Rhianna Schmunk, CBC News Researchers from the University of British Columbia are retracting their scientific paper linking aluminum in vaccines to autism in mice, because one of the co-authors claims figures published in the study were deliberately altered before publication — an issue he says he realized after allegations of data manipulation surfaced online. The professor also told CBC News there's no way to know "why" or "how" the figures were allegedly contorted, as he claims original data cited in the study is inaccessible, which would be a contravention of the university's policy around scientific research. The paper looked at the effects of aluminum components in vaccines on immune response in a mouse's brain. It was published in the Journal of Inorganic Biochemistry on Sept. 5. Co-authored by Dr. Chris Shaw and Lucija Tomljenovic, it reported aluminum-triggered responses "consistent with those in autism." Shaw said he and Tomljenovic drew their conclusions from data that was "compiled" and "analyzed" for the paper, rather than raw data. However, subsequent scrutiny has raised questions about the validity of the data, with one doctor calling the paper "anti-vaccine pseudoscience." By the middle of September, commenters on PubPeer — a database where users can examine and comment on published scientific papers — pointed out that figures in the study appeared to have been altered, and in one case lifted directly from a 2014 study also authored by Shaw and Tomljenovic. ©2017 CBC/Radio-Canada.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 5: Hormones and the Brain; Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 8: Hormones and Sex; Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 24199 - Posted: 10.16.2017

By Jessica Wright No one except Gregory Kapothanasis knows exactly what upset him today. On this hot day in July, he went to his day program for adults with developmental disabilities, as he has done without incident five days a week for the past four years. But then things unraveled. According to the program’s report, he grabbed a staff member’s arm hard enough to bruise it. Then, on the bus during the daily outing, he started screaming and hitting his seat. Now, several hours later, he is finally home, but there is a stranger in his living room. Bouncing from one couch to another, clutching a faded beige blanket stolen from his aunt’s dog, Kapothanasis still seems out of sorts. His mother, Irene — who has cared for him, with the help of home aides, for all of his 24 years — is playing over the day’s events, trying to figure out what triggered him. His outburst is disturbingly reminiscent of a difficult period that peaked six years ago but is uncharacteristic of the young man today. Kapothanasis loves interacting with other people, going to the beach and dining at DiMillo’s, a floating restaurant in a decommissioned car ferry in Portland, Maine. Kapothanasis has autism and speaks only a few words: He can’t explain what happened this morning. Did he have constipation and discomfort, as his doctor suggested? Did he get bored of the day’s program, causing him to act out? Had something occurred on the bus previously that made him fear that part of his day? All his mother can do is wonder — and try to make his evening better. © 2017 Scientific American,

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 5: Hormones and the Brain; Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 8: Hormones and Sex; Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 24168 - Posted: 10.10.2017

By Ingfei Chen, Spectrum In October 2010, Lisa and Eugene Jeffers learned that their daughter Jade, then nearly 2 and a half years old, has autism. The diagnosis felt like a double whammy. The parents were soon engulfed by stress from juggling Jade’s new therapy appointments and wrangling with their health insurance provider, but they now had an infant son to worry about, too. Autism runs in families. Would Bradley follow in his big sister’s footsteps? "We were on high alert,” Lisa Jeffers says. “There were times I would call his name, and he wouldn't look.” She says she couldn’t help but think: Is it because he's busy playing or because he has autism? In search of guidance, the parents signed Bradley up for a three-year study at the University of California, Davis (UC Davis) MIND Institute, a half-hour drive from their home near Sacramento. Researchers there wanted answers to some of the same questions the couple had: What are the odds that infants like Bradley—younger brothers or sisters of a child with autism—will be on the spectrum too? Could experts detect autism in these babies early on, so that they might benefit from early intervention? The infant-sibling study at UC Davis is one of more than 20 similar long-running investigations across the United States, Canada and United Kingdom, the first of which began around 2000. These ‘baby sib’ studies, which collectively have followed thousands of children, are among the most ambitious and expensive projects in autism research. Many of the scientists who run them anticipated that by tracking this special population, they would be able to spot signs of autism before age 1, and ultimately create an infant screen for the condition. © 2017 Scientific American

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 5: Hormones and the Brain; Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 8: Hormones and Sex; Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 23973 - Posted: 08.18.2017

Eric Deggans Like a lot of kids in high school, Sam worries that he doesn't fit in. "I'm a weirdo. That's what everyone says," declares the 18-year-old character at the center of Netflix's new dramatic comedy series Atypical. One reason Sam struggles to fit in: He has autism. As his character explains at the start of the first episode, sometimes he doesn't understand what people mean when they say things. And that makes him feel alone, even when he's not. Sam's family in Atypical is thrown in all sorts of new directions by his quest to date and find a girlfriend. Creator Robia Rashid says she wanted to tell a different kind of coming-of-age story, inspired by recent increases in autism diagnoses. "There are all these young people now who are on the spectrum, who know ... they're on the spectrum," she says. "And [they] are interested in things that every young person is interested in ... independence and finding connections and finding love." On-screen depictions of autism have come a long way since Dustin Hoffman's portrayal of Raymond Babbitt in the 1988 Oscar-winning film Rain Man. Hoffman's Babbitt focused obsessively on watching The People's Court and getting served maple syrup before his pancakes. He could also memorize half the names in a phone book in one reading and count the number of toothpicks on the floor, moments after they spilled out of the box. For Atypical, Rashid says she researched accounts of adults with autism, has several parents of autistic children working in her crew and hired an actor with autism to play a minor role. © 2017 npr

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 5: Hormones and the Brain; Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 8: Hormones and Sex; Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 23953 - Posted: 08.12.2017

Laura Sanders The company mice keep can change their behavior. In some ways, genetically normal littermates behave like mice that carry an autism-related mutation, despite not having the mutation themselves, scientists report. The results, published July 31 in eNeuro, suggest that the social environment influences behavior in complex and important ways, says neuroscientist Alice Luo Clayton of the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative in New York City. The finding comes from looking past the mutated mice to their nonmutated littermates, which are usually not a subject of scrutiny. “People almost never look at it from that direction,” says Clayton, who wasn’t involved in the study. Researchers initially planned to investigate the social behavior of mice that carried a mutation found in some people with autism. Studying nonmutated mice wasn’t part of the plan. “We stumbled into this,” says study coauthor Stéphane Baudouin, a neurobiologist at Cardiff University in Wales. Baudouin and colleagues studied groups of mice that had been genetically modified to lack neuroligin-3, a gene that is mutated in some people with autism. Without the gene, the mice didn’t have Neuroligin-3 in their brains, a protein that helps nerve cells communicate. Along with other behavioral quirks, these mice didn’t show interest in sniffing other mice, as expected. But Baudouin noticed that the behavior of the nonmutated control mice who lived with the neuroligin-3 mutants also seemed off. He suspected that the behavior of the mutated mice might be to blame. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2017.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 5: Hormones and the Brain
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development; Chapter 8: Hormones and Sex
Link ID: 23905 - Posted: 08.01.2017

By Daisy Yuhas, When the shy, dark-haired boy met with clinicians for a full psychiatric evaluation two years ago, almost everything about him pointed to autism. W. had not spoken his first words until age 2. He was at least 4 before he could form sentences. As he got older, he was unable to make friends. He struggled to accept changes to his routine and maintain eye contact. And despite having an average intelligence quotient, he was unusually attached to objects; at age 11, he still lugged a bag of stuffed animals with him everywhere he went. But something else was clearly at work, too. “He had these things that he would call day dreams,” recalls Jennifer Foss-Feig, assistant professor of psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York. When she evaluated W., she noticed that he would often gaze into an empty corner of the room—particularly when he seemed to suspect that she wasn’t paying attention to him. (For privacy reasons, Foss-Feig declined to reveal anything but the child’s first initial.) Occasionally, he would speak to that space, as though someone else were there. His parents, she recalls, were worried. They explained to Foss-Feig that their son had what he called an “imaginary family.” But W.’s invisible playmates weren’t of the usual harmless variety that many children have; they seemed to be a dangerous distraction both at home and at school. On one occasion, he wandered through a busy parking lot, seemingly oblivious to the oncoming traffic. © 2017 Scientific America

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 16: Psychopathology: Biological Basis of Behavior Disorders; Chapter 5: Hormones and the Brain
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 12: Psychopathology: The Biology of Behavioral Disorders; Chapter 8: Hormones and Sex
Link ID: 23874 - Posted: 07.25.2017

By PAM BELLUCK How we look at other people’s faces is strongly influenced by our genes, scientists have found in new research that may be especially important for understanding autism because it suggests that people are born with neurological differences that affect how they develop socially. The study, published on Wednesday in the journal Nature, adds new pieces to the nature-versus-nurture puzzle, suggesting that genetics underlie how children seek out formative social experiences like making eye contact or observing facial expressions. Experts said the study may also provide a road map for scientists searching for genes linked to autism. “These are very convincing findings, novel findings,” said Charles A. Nelson III, a professor of pediatrics and neuroscience at Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital, who was not involved in the research. “They seem to suggest that there’s a genetic underpinning that leads to different patterns of brain development, that leads some kids to develop autism.” Dr. Nelson, an expert in child development and autism who was an independent reviewer of the study for Nature, said that while autism is known to have a genetic basis, how specific genes influence autism’s development remains undetermined. The study provides detailed data on how children look at faces, including which features they focus on and when they move their eyes from one place to another. The information, Dr. Nelson said, could help scientists “work out the circuitry that controls these eye movements, and then we ought to be able to work out which genes are being expressed in that circuit.” “That would be a big advance in autism,” he said. In the study, scientists tracked the eye movements of 338 toddlers while they watched videos of motherly women as well as of children playing in a day care center. The toddlers, 18 months to 24 months old, included 250 children who were developing normally (41 pairs of identical twins, 42 pairs of nonidentical twins and 84 children unrelated to each other). There were also 88 children with autism. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 5: Hormones and the Brain; Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 8: Hormones and Sex; Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 23832 - Posted: 07.13.2017

By Jessica Wright, Spectrum on July 11, 2017 Treatment with the hormone oxytocin improves social skills in some children with autism, suggest results from a small clinical trial. The results appeared today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences1. Oxytocin, dubbed the ‘love hormone,’ enhances social behavior in animals. This effect makes it attractive as a potential autism treatment. But studies in people have been inconsistent: Some small trials have shown that the hormone improves social skills in people with autism, and others have shown no benefit. This may be because only a subset of people with autism respond to the treatment. In the new study, researchers tried to identify this subset. The same team showed in 2014 that children with relatively high blood levels of oxytocin have better social skills than do those with low levels2. In their new work, the researchers examined whether oxytocin levels in children with autism alter the children’s response to treatment with the hormone. They found that low levels of the hormone prior to treatment are associated with the most improvement in social skills. “We need to be thinking about a precision-medicine approach for autism,” says Karen Parker, associate professor of psychiatry at Stanford University in California, who co-led the study. “There’s been a reasonable number of failed [oxytocin] trials, and the question is: Could they have failed because all of the kids, by blind, dumb luck, had really high baseline oxytocin levels?” The study marks the first successful attempt to find a biological marker that predicts response to the therapy. © 2017 Scientific American,

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 5: Hormones and the Brain; Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 8: Hormones and Sex; Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 23826 - Posted: 07.12.2017

By Nicholette Zeliadt Researchers have known that genes contribute to autism since the 1970s, when a team found that identical twins often share the condition. Since then, scientists have been racking up potential genetic culprits in autism, a process that DNA-decoding technologies have accelerated in the past decade. As this work has progressed, scientists have unearthed a variety of types of genetic changes that can underlie autism. The more scientists dig into DNA, the more intricate its contribution to autism seems to be. How do researchers know genes contribute to autism? Since the first autism twin study in 1977, several teams have compared autism rates in twins and shown that autism is highly heritable. When one identical twin has autism, there is about an 80 percent chance that the other twin has it, too. The corresponding rate for fraternal twins is around 40 percent. However, genetics clearly does not account for all autism risk. Environmental factors also contribute to the condition, although researchers disagree on the relative contributions of genes and environment. Some environmental risk factors for autism, such as exposure to a maternal immune response in the womb or complications during birth, may work with genetic factors to produce autism or intensify its features. Is there such a thing as an autism gene? Not really. There are several conditions associated with autism that stem from mutations in a single gene, including fragile X and Rett syndromes. But less than 1 percent of non-syndromic cases of autism stem from mutations in any single gene. © 1996-2017 The Washington Post

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 5: Hormones and the Brain; Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 8: Hormones and Sex; Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 23794 - Posted: 07.01.2017

By Lenny Bernstein A mother’s fever during pregnancy, especially in the second trimester, is associated with a higher risk that her child will be diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, researchers reported Tuesday. Three or more fevers after 12 weeks of gestation may be linked to an even greater risk of the condition. The study by researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health adds support for the theory that infectious agents that trigger a pregnant woman’s immune response may disrupt a fetus’s brain development and lead to disorders such as autism. “Fever seems to be the driving force here,” not the infection itself, said Mady Hornig, director of translational research at the school’s Center for Infection and Immunity. Fever can be part of the body’s immune response to an infection, and molecules produced by a mother’s immune system may be crossing into the baby’s neurological system at a critical time, she said. The research, published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, comes at a time when the scientifically discredited theory that some childhood vaccines cause autism has gained new attention. President Trump has promoted this myth, energizing some anti-vaccine groups. Some families say that their children developed autism after vaccinations. The timing is a coincidence, however; symptoms of autism typically become clear at around two years of age, which happens to be the age when children get certain vaccines. © 1996-2017 The Washington Post

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 5: Hormones and the Brain
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development; Chapter 8: Hormones and Sex
Link ID: 23737 - Posted: 06.13.2017