Chapter 8. Hormones and Sex

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By Darold A. Treffert How many children have “autism”? Is that number increasing? Is there an “epidemic” of autism or have we merely been continually refining it, expanding it and moving the goalposts since it was first described by Leo Kanner in 1943? I met my first child with autism in 1959, almost 60 years ago. I had the good fortune to learn about autism firsthand from Kanner himself, when he was a visiting professor at the University of Wisconsin Medical School and I was a medical student there. Then, in 1962, I started a Children’s Unit at Winnebago Mental Health Institute in Wisconsin, on which almost all the children were autistic. That’s also the unit on which I met my first savant. The question of autism prevalence engaged me even then. In 1970, I carried out the first U.S. study of the epidemiology of infantile autism, published in Archives of General Psychiatry. Actually, autism was then most commonly diagnosed formally as childhood schizophrenia. At that time, the Wisconsin Department of Health and Human services provided me with a printout listing all patients age 12 and under seen for evaluation or treatment and given a diagnosis of childhood schizophrenia between fiscal 1962 and 1967 in 30 community mental health and child guidance clinics; four state and county mental hospitals; three colonies NOT REAL NAMES and training schools; and the children’s treatment center, children’s diagnostic center and university hospitals. © 2018 Scientific American,

Keyword: Autism
Link ID: 25014 - Posted: 05.24.2018

By Simon Baron-Cohen, The Austrian paediatrician Hans Asperger has long been recognized as a pioneer in the study of autism. He was even seen as a hero, saving children with the condition from the Nazi killing programme by emphasizing their intelligence. However, it is now indisputable that Asperger collaborated in the murder of children with disabilities under the Third Reich. Historian Herwig Czech fully documented this in the April 2018 issue of Molecular Autism (a journal I co-edit; see H. Czech Mol. Autism 9, 29; 2018). Now, historian Edith Sheffer’s remarkable book Asperger’s Children builds on Czech’s study with her own original scholarship. She makes a compelling case that the foundational ideas of autism emerged in a society that strove for the opposite of neurodiversity. Advertisement These findings cast a shadow on the history of autism, already a long struggle towards accurate diagnosis, societal acceptance and support. The revelations are also causing debate among autistic people, their families, researchers and clinicians over whether the diagnostic label of Asperger’s syndrome should be abandoned. In 1981, psychiatrist Lorna Wing published the paper in Psychological Medicine that first brought Asperger’s clinical observations to the attention of the English-speaking medical world, and coined the term Asperger’s syndrome (L. Wing Psychol. Med. 11, 115–129; 1981). A decade later, in the book Autism and Asperger Syndrome (1991), developmental psychologist Uta Frith translated into English the 1944 treatise by Asperger in which he claimed to have discovered autism. © 2018 Scientific American

Keyword: Autism
Link ID: 24989 - Posted: 05.18.2018

by Ariana Eunjung Cha Women having trouble getting pregnant sometimes try yoga, meditation or mindfulness, and some research suggests that psychological stress may affect infertility. But what about men: Does their mental state affect a couple's ability to conceive? The latest research on this subject was published Thursday in the journal Fertility and Sterility and suggests that a link between mental health and fertility may exist for women and men. The study involved data from 1,650 women and 1,608 men who were recruited through the National Institutes of Health's Reproductive Medicine Network at six sites in the United States. Most of the participants were couples, and they were undergoing some kind of fertility treatment, such as ovarian stimulation medication or artificial insemination, but not in vitro fertilization. Based on a questionnaire, about 6 percent of the women and 2 percent of the men were rated as having major depression. While the number of men with major depression in the analysis was small — just 34 — an analysis found differences between them and the other men in the study. Those with major depression were 60 percent less likely to have a live birth than men who did not have major depression. More specifically, of the 34, only three of the couples, or less than 9 percent, achieved a live birth. That compares with nearly 25 percent having a live birth for couples in which the male partner did not have major depression. © 1996-2018 The Washington Post

Keyword: Depression; Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 24987 - Posted: 05.17.2018

By Jeremy Rehm A man may be attractive because of his curly, blond hair or slick pin-striped suit, but strip everything away and one luring—maybe evolutionary—piece remains, a new study finds: how proportional his body is, especially his legs. Women prefer a man with legs that are about half his height, according to previous research; scientists believe that is an evolutionary result of women wanting to choose only healthy men. Legs that are too short, for example, have been linked to type 2 diabetes. But other proportions, such as arm length to body height or whether the elbow and knee divide a limb in half, can also relate to a person’s health. Do they influence women’s views as well? To answer this, researchers collected average body proportions from roughly 9000 men in the U.S. military and used them to create computer-generated images of male models (pictured). The scientists made the model’s arms and legs slightly longer or shorter, and then asked more than 800 heterosexual U.S. women to rank each model’s attractiveness. © 2018 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Evolution
Link ID: 24986 - Posted: 05.17.2018

Jesara Sinclair · Amanda Spidel, now pregnant with her third child, experienced postpartum depression with her first two. (Jesara Sinclair/CBC) Amanda Spidel had trouble getting pregnant with her first child. After her son was finally born, the stress of conceiving turned into anxiety around his health. Before long, her anxiety turned into postpartum depression, a condition that affects about 14 per cent of mothers. She struggled with her emotions and how she thought she should feel about motherhood. "I only wanted to be nothing but grateful, but he was very colicky, he cried all the time, and there were moments where it was really hard," she said. "All I could think was I should just be happy. Why am I not happy? But it was because he was crying all the time." Spidel's family doctor asked her how she was feeling at every visit, and that's how she reached out for help. "One day I went in and he asked that question and I just broke down and said, 'You know what — I'm not okay.'" Now 32 and expecting her third child, Spidel is speaking out about her experience with postpartum depression for the first time in hopes that it will help other mothers struggling not feel so alone. "It was really hard to admit that there was something wrong with me and it needed to be fixed," she said. "It's an illness, it really is and I was sick." ©2018 CBC/Radio-Canada.

Keyword: Depression; Hormones & Behavior
Link ID: 24970 - Posted: 05.13.2018

By Alexandra Sacks, M.D. A new mother finally gets her fussy baby to sleep and steps into a relaxing hot shower — with her glasses on. At a family barbecue she can’t recall the name of a relative she rarely sees. It’s easy to laugh off such lapses as “mommy brain,” but there remains a cultural belief that pregnancy and child care impact a woman’s cognition and mental life, long after a baby is born. Women have often chalked up these changes to hormones, fatigue and the intoxicating love for a new baby. Hormones do affect cognition, and, as anyone who has ever done shift work or had jet lag knows, sleep deprivation saps our mental abilities. And the current evidence in scientific literature suggests that pregnancy changes the brain on a physical, cellular level in ways that we are only beginning to understand. However, there is no convincing scientific evidence that pregnancy causes an overall decline in cognitive performance or memory. Instead, most experts believe that pregnant women’s brain changes are an example of neuroplasticity, the process in which the brain changes throughout life by reorganizing connections in response to the stimulation of new experiences, and neurogenesis, the process of growth that allows for new learning. A 2016 study in Nature Neuroscience found that even two years after pregnancy, women had gray matter brain changes in regions involved in social cognition or the ability to empathically understand what is going on in the mind of another person, to put yourself in their shoes. It may be that some subtle aspects of memory are sacrificed to enhance other areas of cognition. A 2010 study in Psychoneuroendocrinology showed that pregnant women experienced some impairment in the ability to remember words, but did not show changes in other memory functions such as recognition or working memory. This means that these women might forget the name of a character in their favorite TV show, for example, but would have no trouble in the type of memory that involves learning, reasoning and comprehension. © 2018 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 24969 - Posted: 05.12.2018

/ By David Dobbs If you think of beauty as something absolute — if you think Beyoncé or George Clooney is just beautiful, simple as that — Michael J. Ryan is here to tell you you’re wrong. Beauty, he asserts in this lovely and learned new book, exists only as a value-laden, capricious, and sometimes fleeting perception generated by the brain. Sexual selection is a counterintuitive theory that tries to explain bizarre forms and behavior. Even Darwin couldn’t quite wrap his mind around it. Beauty is literally in the eye of the beholder: It reveals itself only where and when the beholder thinks it does. In effect, then, to perceive beauty is to create it. And virtually all sexual species have evolved both the neural systems to perceive beauty and the traits that are or become so perceived. If you’re thinking this sounds circular and suspiciously chicken-and-egg, I’m here to tell you you’re right. Sexual selection is a complex, counterintuitive, three-pronged theory that seeks to explain both everyday sexual attraction and some of nature’s most bizarre forms, phenomena, and behavior. Even Darwin, who conceived the theory a century and a half ago, couldn’t quite wrap his mind around it, and the mature version that Ryan explores here is much and savagely disputed. The difficulty of explaining how sexual selection creates beauty is only Ryan’s first challenge. His second is that at least two notable books have already explained it memorably. The first, of course, was “The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex” (Darwin’s “second most famous book,” notes Ryan), which explained it memorably but incompletely. Copyright 2018 Undark

Keyword: Emotions; Evolution
Link ID: 24966 - Posted: 05.12.2018

Laurel Hamers Toastier nest temperatures, rather than sex chromosomes, turn baby turtles female. Now, a genetic explanation for how temperature determines turtles’ sex is emerging: Scientists have identified a temperature-responsive gene that sets turtle embryos on a path to being either male or female. When researchers dialed down that gene early in development, turtle embryos incubating at the cooler climes that would normally yield males turned out female instead, researchers report in the May 11 Science. Scientists have struggled since the 1960s to explain how a temperature cue can flip the sex switch for turtles and other reptiles (SN Online: 1/8/18). That’s partly because gene-manipulating techniques that are well-established in mice don’t work in reptiles, says study coauthor Blanche Capel, a developmental biologist at Duke University School of Medicine. Previous studies showed certain genes, including one called Kdm6b, behaving differently in developing male and female turtles. But until recently, nobody had been able to tweak those genes to directly test which ones controlled sex. “This is the first venture down that path,” says Clare Holleley, an evolutionary geneticist at the Australian National Wildlife Collection in Canberra who wasn’t part of the study. “It's really quite a breakthrough.” In the new study, Capel’s lab collaborated with a group of Chinese researchers led by Chutian Ge of Zhejiang Wanli University in Ningbo. Ge’s team recently developed a way to lessen the activity of particular reptilian genes by injecting viruses bearing snippets of artificial RNA into developing eggs. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2018

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Epigenetics
Link ID: 24963 - Posted: 05.11.2018

By Lina Zeldovich, You can draw a straight line from the initial descriptions of many conditions—claustrophobia, for example, or vertigo—to their diagnostic criteria. Not so with autism. Its history has taken a less direct path with several detours, according to Jeffrey Baker, professor of pediatrics and history at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. Autism was originally described as a form of childhood schizophrenia and the result of cold parenting, then as a set of related developmental disorders, and finally as a spectrum condition with wide-ranging degrees of impairment. Along with these shifting views, its diagnostic criteria have changed as well. Here is how the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the diagnostic manual used in the United States, has reflected our evolving understanding of autism. Why was autism initially considered a psychiatric condition? When Leo Kanner, an Austrian-American psychiatrist and physician, first described autism in 1943, he wrote about children with “extreme autistic aloneness,” “delayed echolalia” and an “anxiously obsessive desire for the maintenance of sameness.” He also noted that the children were often intelligent and some had extraordinary memory. As a result, Kanner viewed autism as a profound emotional disturbance that does not affect cognition. In keeping with his perspective, the second edition of the DSM, the DSM-II, published in 1952, defined autism as a psychiatric condition—a form of childhood schizophrenia marked by a detachment from reality. During the 1950s and 1960s, autism was thought to be rooted in cold and unemotional mothers, whom Bruno Bettelheim dubbed “refrigerator mothers.” © 2018 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Autism
Link ID: 24959 - Posted: 05.10.2018

By Nicholas Bakalar Some earlier observational studies have suggested that children who are exclusively breast-fed have higher I.Q.s through adolescence, and even higher incomes at age 30. But a randomized trial, a more rigorous type of study that better controls for socioeconomic and family variables, found that breast-feeding in infancy had no discernible effect on cognitive function by the time children reached age 16. Researchers studied 13,557 children in Belarus, assigning them as newborns either to a program that promoted exclusive and prolonged breast-feeding or to usual care. Mothers and children were followed with six pediatrician visits during the first year of life to assess breast-feeding habits. The study is in PLOS Medicine. At age 16, the children took tests measuring verbal and nonverbal memory, word recognition, executive function, visual-spatial orientation, information processing speed and fine motor skills. There was no difference in scores between the two groups, except that breast-feeders had slightly higher scores in verbal function. “If you want to breast-feed in hope of increasing cognitive functioning scores, you may find some benefits in the early years,” said the lead author, Seungmi Yang, an assistant professor of epidemiology at McGill University in Montreal. “But the effect is going to be reduced substantially at adolescence. Other factors, such as birth order and parental education, are more influential.” © 2018 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Development of the Brain; Intelligence
Link ID: 24955 - Posted: 05.10.2018

By Simon Baron-Cohen Five years ago, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) established autism spectrum disorder (ASD) as an umbrella term when it published the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5), the primary guide to taxonomy in psychiatry. In creating this single diagnostic category, the APA also removed the subgroup called Asperger syndrome that had been in place since 1994. At the 2018 annual meeting of the International Society for Autism Research (INSAR), there will be plenty of discussion about diagnostic terminology: Despite the many advantages of a single diagnostic category, scientists will be discussing whether, to achieve greater scientific or clinical progress, we need subtypes. The APA created a single diagnostic label of ASD to recognize the important concept of the spectrum, since the way autism is manifested is highly variable. All autistic individuals share core features, including social and communication difficulties, unusually narrow interests, a strong need for repetition and, often, sensory issues. Yet these core features vary enormously in how they are manifested, and in how disabling they are. This variability provides one meaning of the term spectrum, and the single diagnostic label ASD makes space for this considerable variability. The term spectrum also refers to the heterogeneity in autism. There are huge disparities in many areas, such as language development or IQ, and in the presence or absence of co-occurring medical conditions and disabilities. This heterogeneity is also part of what is meant by a spectrum. And some autistic people also have very evident talents. This is another sense of the term spectrum, and the single diagnostic label makes room for this source of diversity, too. © 2018 Scientific America

Keyword: Autism
Link ID: 24943 - Posted: 05.05.2018

By Andrew Joseph, Researchers have been left empty-handed so far in their quest to uncover some measurable biological signal that could be used to diagnose autism spectrum disorder, leaving clinicians to identify the condition just based on a child’s behavior. But on Wednesday, scientists reported in the journal Science Translational Medicine that a hormone that regulates blood pressure could be one of those signposts. They found that low concentrations of the molecule—called arginine vasopressin, or AVP—in the cerebrospinal fluid corresponded to autism-like social behavior in male monkeys, while a high AVP concentration signaled the most social animals. And they discovered similar results when looking at AVP concentrations in the cerebrospinal fluid, or CSF, of a small group of boys. “It’s really exciting work,” said Dr. Mollie Meffert, a molecular neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins, who was not involved in the study. “One of the most interesting things is the finding that the vasopressin in the CSF correlates with sociality in the macaques and in autism with children.” Meffert said if vasopressin concentrations are confirmed to correspond to autism, they could perhaps be used to diagnose the condition and as a gauge to measure the effect of treatment candidates. And Karen Parker, the lead author of the study and associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford, said that the hormone could become a drug target if future studies show boosting its levels can assuage the social impairments of autism spectrum disorder. © 2018 Scientific American

Keyword: Autism; Hormones & Behavior
Link ID: 24942 - Posted: 05.05.2018

By Edith Sheffer Millions of people are identified with Asperger’s syndrome, as a diagnosis, an identity and even an adjective. Asperger’s name has permeated our culture—yet I believe we should no longer invoke it. Naming medical diagnoses after individuals is an honor, meant to recognize those who discover conditions and to commend their work. While there is a move toward descriptive diagnostic labels in medicine, certain eponyms have entered our everyday language and will likely endure. Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, for example. Hans Asperger, however, neither described Asperger syndrome as we understand it today nor merits commendation. I have spent seven years researching his past in Nazi Vienna, uncovering his complicity in the Nazi regime and its “euthanasia” program that murdered children considered to be disabled. Contrary to Asperger’s reputation as a resister in the Third Reich, he approved the transfer of dozens of children to Vienna's killing center, Spiegelgrund, where they perished. He publicly spoke—and published—about the need to send the most “difficult cases” to Spiegelgrund. He was also close colleagues with top euthanasia figures in Vienna, including Erwin Jekelius, the director of Spiegelgrund, who was engaged to Hitler’s sister. Nazi ideology shaped Asperger’s research. Children in the Third Reich were to display community spirit, being enthusiastic participants in collective activities such as the Hitler youth. In Germany in the 1930s, Nazi psychiatrists identified children whom they believed lacked social feeling, unable to join the national community. Asperger, in his early 30s, warned against classifying children, arguing that they should be regarded as individuals. But right after the Third Reich annexed Austria in 1938—and the purge of his Jewish and liberal associates from the University of Vienna—Asperger followed his senior colleagues in Nazi child psychiatry and introduced his own diagnosis of social detachment: “autistic psychopathy.” © 2018 Scientific American,

Keyword: Autism
Link ID: 24937 - Posted: 05.03.2018

Helen Thompson In the pitch-black waters beneath the Arctic ice, bowhead whales get funky. A small population of endangered bowheads belt an unusually varied repertoire of songs, which grows more diverse during mating season. Hunted to near extinction in the 1600s, these fire truck–sized mammals now number in the 300s in the frigid waters around the Svalbard archipelago in Norway. Underwater audio recorders captured the whales singing 184 acoustically distinct songs from October to April in 2010 through 2014. On the bowhead charts, a song's popularity is fleeting. Most recorded songs were heard for less than 100 hours total, although one song registered over 730 hours total. Some songs appeared in more than one month, but none repeated annually. December and January, likely the height of breeding season, saw a wider array of new bowhead songs than other months, researchers report in the April Biology Letters. Hearing a more distinct mixtape may play a role in enticing a female to mate. A hot cetacean band The Spitzbergen bowhead whale songbook contains a wide variety of tunes, and some stick around on the charts longer than others. Here each bubble corresponds to one of the 184 songs recorded by researchers from 2010 to 2014. The size of the bubble corresponds to the number of hours it was sung. Click on any of the dark green bubbles to hear that whale’s song. Groups of humpback whales don't change their tunes much in a given year, compared with bowheads. Only a few songbird species boast similar diversity. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2018.

Keyword: Animal Communication; Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 24927 - Posted: 05.01.2018

By Kerry Grens Neena Schwartz, a reproductive biologist at Northwestern University who discovered the hormone inhibin and its role in the regulation of reproductive cycles, died this month (April 15). She was 91. “She was a tremendous scientist, a pioneer for women in the sciences, and a leader in our discipline of endocrinology,” Teresa Woodruff and Kelly Mayo, both of Northwestern University, write in a memorial in Endocrine News. Among numerous leadership roles throughout her career, Schwartz founded the American Women in Science (AWIS) in 1971 and was a president of the Endocrine Society in the early 1980s. Schwartz was born in Baltimore, earned her undergraduate degree from Goucher College, and received her doctorate from Northwestern University in 1953. After a faculty position at the University of Illinois College of Medicine, she joined Northwestern in 1973 and remained as a professor there until her retirement in 1999. Her early work focused on rats’ hormonal cycles, and the insight she derived from her studies contributed to a basic understanding of the so-called HPG axis, the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal crosstalk of hormones that controls reproduction. Schwartz later discovered a peptide-based feedback system controlling hormone levels in the ovaries, and described the hormone inhibin, which blocks follicle stimulating hormone (FSH). The presence of inhibin had been proposed decades earlier, but nobody had searched for it in the follicle fluid of ovaries—until Schwartz and her colleague at the University of Maryland, Cornelia Channing took up the cause. Channing had sent Schwartz the fluid, and Schwartz found that it made FSH levels drop. © 1986-2018 The Scientist

Keyword: Hormones & Behavior
Link ID: 24925 - Posted: 05.01.2018

By CEYLAN YEGINSU LONDON — The anti-vaccine movement has come for the pets. A spreading fear of pet vaccines’ side effects has prompted the British Veterinary Association to issue a startling statement this week: Dogs cannot develop autism. The implicit message was that dog owners should keep vaccinating their pets against diseases like distemper and canine hepatitis because any concerns that the animals would develop autism after the injections were unfounded. The warning has a long tail. It grew out of an anti-vaccine theory that rippled across the United States and Europe as networks known as “anti-vaxxers” claimed that childhood vaccinations could cause autism. The belief, promoted by some celebrities like the television personality Jenny McCarthy, who says her son has autism, spurred many parents to begin boycotting traditional vaccines. The theory gained prominence in 1998, after a study published in the medical journal The Lancet purported to show a link between autism and the measles-mumps-rubella vaccination. It caused a firestorm in health circles and among parents, resulting in a significant drop in vaccination rates for children in Britain. But the study has since been thoroughly discredited. It was formally retracted by the medical magazine and its lead author, Andrew Wakefield, who at the time was a doctor at the Royal Free Hospital in London, was subsequently struck off the British medical register over ethical lapses. The theory, however, has jumped species. It is increasingly being applied to pets in the United States and is gaining momentum in Britain — raising concerns that the already low vaccination rates in this country could fall further. © 2018 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Autism
Link ID: 24914 - Posted: 04.28.2018

/ By Cathleen O'Grady Growing up in Saudi Arabia, Aciel Eshky didn’t get the memo that science was for boys. When she was around 10 years old, her aunt started to teach her basic computer programming. From there, going on to a degree in computer science seemed like a natural fit. So when a classmate in her master’s program abroad told her that women were weaker than men at math, it came as a shock. “I was really annoyed,” Eshky says. “I felt like I was being bullied.” “If that means that you get fewer women in certain subjects, and more women in other subjects like psychology, it’s not necessarily a catastrophe.” Despite its dismal reputation for gender equality, Saudi Arabia has a surprising level of female graduates in the so-called STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). Ranked among the bottom 20 countries in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index in 2015, women nonetheless made up 39 percent of graduates in a cluster of “core” STEM subjects. This number is higher than Iceland’s 35 percent, even though the Nordic country ranks number one for gender equality. Norway, which has the second-highest level of gender equity, sees only 26 percent of women graduating with STEM degrees. Taken together with these numbers, Eshky’s experience is illustrative of the so-called “gender-equality paradox” reported in a recent headline-grabbing paper: Countries ranking higher on measures of gender equality, the study found, tend to have fewer women pursuing a STEM education than those further down the gender equality ranks. Copyright 2018 Undark

Keyword: Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 24910 - Posted: 04.27.2018

By Jim Daley Male fruit flies enjoy ejaculating, according to research published yesterday (April 20) in Current Biology. The study also found that when fruit flies are denied sex, they consume more alcohol than usual. It is the first study to demonstrate that insects find sex pleasurable. “We wanted to know which part of the mating process entails the rewarding value for flies,” says Galit Shohat-Ophir, a neurobiologist at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, in a statement. “The actions that males perform during courtship? A female’s pheromones? The last step of mating which is sperm and seminal fluid release?” To test if the latter is pleasurable, Shohat-Ophi and her colleagues used genetically engineered male fruit flies whose neurons controlling ejaculation can be activated by red light. These flies spent more time near the red light, presumably because they found ejaculation pleasurable, the authors say in the statement. David Anderson, a neurobiologist at Caltech who was not part of the study, tells National Geographic that it’s possible the pleasure the flies experienced wasn’t from ejaculation, but other reward systems in the brain that the stimulated neurons act upon. Next, the researchers plied the flies with alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks and observed their response. The flies that had ejaculated preferred nonalcoholic drinks, while those that had not been exposed to the red light chose the alcoholic ones. “Male flies that are sexually deprived have increased motivation to consume alcohol as an alternative reward,” says Shohat-Ophi in the statement. © 1986-2018 The Scientist

Keyword: Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 24890 - Posted: 04.21.2018

By Matt Warren There is no one gene that, when mutated, causes autism. But over the past decade, researchers have identified hundreds of gene variations that seem to affect brain development in ways that increase the risk of autism. However, these scientists mainly searched for variants in the DNA that directly encodes the building blocks of proteins. Now, a new study probing so-called noncoding DNA has found that alterations in regions that regulate gene activity may also contribute to autism. And surprisingly, these variations tended to be inherited from fathers who aren’t autistic. “This is a really good article—it’s somewhat provocative and it makes us think about [autism genetics in a] different way,” says Lucia Peixoto, a neuroscientist and computational biologist at Washington State University in Spokane, who was not involved in the research. “I think it’s a great contribution to the field.” Research into the genetic risk for autism has mainly focused on how mutations that arise spontaneously in an individual’s genome—rather than being inherited from a parent—disrupt protein-coding regions and lead to the condition. That’s because these sporadic mutations have relatively large effects and studies have shown that such mutations, although individually rare, together contribute to about 25% to 30% of cases, says Jonathan Sebat, a geneticist at the University of California, San Diego. But only about 2% of the genome consists of protein-coding areas. Sebat says the large noncoding portion of our DNA—often previously referred to as “junk DNA”—has so far been ignored in autism research. © 2018 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Autism; Epigenetics
Link ID: 24886 - Posted: 04.21.2018

By CEYLAN YEGINSU A new study has shed more light on the revelations that Hans Asperger, the Austrian pediatrician for whom a form of autism is named, had collaborated with the Nazis and actively assisted in the killing of disabled children. Published on Wednesday in the journal Molecular Autism by the medical historian Herwig Czech, the report relies on eight years of research that included the examination of previously unseen Nazi-era documents. The study concludes that though Dr. Asperger was not a member of the Nazi Party, he had participated in the Third Reich’s child-euthanasia program, which aimed to establish a “pure” society by eliminating those deemed a “burden.” Dr. Asperger referred disabled children to the notorious Am Spiegelgrund clinic in Vienna, where hundreds were either drugged or gassed to death from 1940 to 1945. “The picture that emerges is that of a man who managed to further his career under the Nazi regime, despite his apparent political and ideological distance from it,” Mr. Czech, of the University of Vienna, wrote in his study. Asperger syndrome is a lifelong developmental disability associated with autism that affects perception and social interaction. About one in 68 children in the United States have been identified with Autism Spectrum Disorder. © 2018 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Autism
Link ID: 24885 - Posted: 04.21.2018