Links for Keyword: Autism

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by Laura Dattaro / Autistic people have atypical activity in a part of the brain that regulates attention, according to a new study1. The researchers measured pupil responses as a proxy for brain activity in a brain region known as the locus ceruleus. Located in the brain stem, the region plays a key role in modulating activity throughout the brain, in part by controlling attention. It can broaden and narrow pupils to adjust how much visual information a person receives, for example. Because of this, researchers can use pupil size to infer activity in the region and gauge a person’s focus on a task; a wider pupil indicates increased focus. The locus ceruleus may also be key to regulating the balance between excitatory and inhibitory brain signals. Some research indicates this equilibrium is disrupted in autism, suggesting the region plays a role in the condition’s underlying biology. In the new study, researchers compared autistic and typical people’s pupil responses when performing a task with and without a distracting sound. Typical people’s pupils grew larger when hearing the sound, suggesting a boost in focus directed by the locus ceruleus. By contrast, the pupils of autistic people did not widen, indicating they do not modulate their attention in the same way. This might have profound consequences for autistic people’s sensory experience, the researchers say. © 2020 Simons Foundation

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning; Chapter 14: Attention and Higher Cognition
Link ID: 27231 - Posted: 05.05.2020

By Emily Willingham Professional burnout is all too familiar: Go at something too hard for too long, and the motivational tank empties. But burnout for an autistic person isn’t always about overwork, Dora Raymaker, an autistic systems scientist at Portland State University (PSU), found in a study of autistic workers. Instead, the need to mask autistic behaviors through a workday with nonautistic people can cause chronic exhaustion, reduced ability to tolerate stimuli like light or sound, and loss of skills, the study showed through interviews and a survey of social media comments. The work, which Raymaker’s team published last month, highlights a new trend in autism research. Raymaker and colleagues are part of a small but growing number of research teams with autistic members. These groups are shifting the focus in autism research from cause and cure to practical steps, including ones that help autistic people in settings such as the workplace. And they’re publishing some of their findings in a new journal, Autism in Adulthood, which is dedicated to including the perspectives of autistic people in what it publishes. Interest in those perspectives is “skyrocketing,” says Christina Nicolaidis, a co-author on the burnout study. Nicolaidis, a professor in the School of Social Work at PSU, has an adult son who is autistic. Although much research on autism has focused on children, autistic adults who came of age in the 1990s and early 2000s are joining the field and bringing a focus on their own experience. One member of that cohort is TC Waisman, a doctoral candidate at the University of Calgary studying how faculty and staff can improve autistic students’ college experiences. Waisman says she sees researchers increasingly “respecting us as our own self-determined culture and foregrounding our needs in studies.” © 2020 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning
Link ID: 27223 - Posted: 04.30.2020

By Neil Genzlinger Mel Baggs, whose forthright writings and films about being a nonverbal person with autism made an impact in the fields of neurodiversity and disability rights, died on April 11 in Burlington, Vt., at age 39. Anna Baggs, Mx. Baggs’s mother, said the cause was believed to be respiratory failure, though numerous health problems may also have played a part. Mx. Baggs, a vigorous blogger, used the term “genderless” as a self-description. “I like that it just means lack of gender, and has no spoken or unspoken secondary meaning,” read a 2018 entry on the blog “Cussin’ and Discussin’: Mel being human in a world that says I’m not.” Many friends and admirers posting about Mx. Baggs’s death on social media used gender-neutral pronouns, while others used the traditional feminine ones. Gender issues, though, were not Mx. Baggs’s major concern. Of more urgency was conveying that people who think and communicate in nontraditional ways are fully human, and that humanness is a spectrum, not something that can be reduced to a normal/abnormal dichotomy. Many people were introduced to these ideas through Mx. Baggs’s short film “In My Language,” posted on the internet in 2007 and given wide exposure through coverage on CNN. For three minutes it shows Mx. Baggs fiddling with the knob on a dresser drawer, rubbing against a book and more. Then it offers “a translation,” as the film puts it. “The previous part of this video was in my native language,” a synthesized voice says. “Many people have assumed that when I talk about this being my language, that means that each part of the video must have a particular symbolic message within it designed for the human mind to interpret. But my language is not about designing words or even visual symbols for people to interpret. It is about being in a constant conversation with every aspect of my environment.” By the time “In My Language” was posted, Mx. Baggs had already drawn considerable attention in the autism world for creating the website “Getting the Truth Out,” a response to an awareness campaign by the Autism Society of America called “Getting the Word Out,” which Mx. Baggs thought made autistic people objects of pity. Part of that attention was skepticism about Mx. Baggs’s claims. Autism online forums can be caustic, with sharp divisions among various factions, and the harshest detractors have accused Mx. Baggs of being a fake. © 2020 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning
Link ID: 27218 - Posted: 04.29.2020

by Peter Hess The mood-stabilizing drug lithium eases repetitive behaviors seen in mice missing SHANK3, an autism gene, according to a new study1. The findings suggest lithium merits further study as a treatment for some people with autism, even though the drug has troublesome side effects, including tremors and impaired memory. “Lithium is, of course, a rather difficult, non-ideal treatment,” says lead investigator Gina Turrigiano, professor of vision science at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. “It’s really hard to get people on a lithium regimen that they can tolerate well.” But understanding why lithium works may set the stage for better treatments, she says. About 1 percent of people with autism have mutations in SHANK3. Deletion or mutation of the gene can also lead to Phelan-McDermid syndrome, which is characterized by intellectual disability, delayed speech and, often, autism. Case studies of people with Phelan-McDermid syndrome also suggest that lithium eases behavior problems associated with the condition2. Previous work has shown that SHANK3 helps stabilize neuronal circuits by adjusting excitatory and inhibitory signaling like a thermostat. This process, called homeostatic plasticity, allows neurons to respond to changes in sensory input. © 2020 Simons Foundation

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 16: Psychopathology: Biological Basis of Behavior Disorders
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning; Chapter 12: Psychopathology: The Biology of Behavioral Disorders
Link ID: 27215 - Posted: 04.27.2020

by Lauren Schenkman Mice with mutations in a gene called DLG2 are anxious and asocial; they also sleep poorly and overgroom themselves, according to a new study1. These characteristics resemble those seen in some people with autism. The results offer the first evidence that mutations in DLG2 may account for some of the condition’s behavioral traits. “This study is a baby step indicating DLG2’s implication in [autism’s] core behavioral symptoms,” says lead investigator Soo Young Kim, assistant professor of pharmacy at Yeungnam University in Gyeongsan, South Korea. A 2013 study reported that mice and people with DLG2 mutations have differences in learning, attention and other cognitive processes2. Last year, a study of nearly 500 families with two or more autistic children identified DLG2 as a candidate gene for autism3. The new work offers “a more full picture” of DLG2’s effect on behavior, says Seth Grant, professor of molecular neuroscience at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. Grant led the 2013 work but was not involved in the new study. “It’s a useful contribution.” Kim and her colleagues bred male mice that have two mutant copies of DLG2. The animals lack the corresponding protein, which forms part of a neuron’s scaffolding. DLG4, another gene implicated in autism, has a similar role. © 2020 Simons Foundation

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 16: Psychopathology: Biological Basis of Behavior Disorders
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning; Chapter 12: Psychopathology: The Biology of Behavioral Disorders
Link ID: 27212 - Posted: 04.24.2020

by Peter Hess Early sleep problems predict repetitive behaviors later in childhood1. And toddlers who overreact or underreact to sensory stimuli have more repetitive behaviors and other autism traits later on2. Together, the findings from two independent studies suggest that early behavioral differences may set the stage for restricted and repetitive behaviors, a core characteristic of autism also associated with other conditions of brain development. The studies also highlight areas for early intervention, particularly if further research identifies causal links between these traits. “Addressing sleep problems might be able to improve trajectories,” says Annette Estes, director of the University of Washington Autism Center in Seattle, who led the sleep study. Autistic children are twice as likely to have trouble sleeping as typical children. Their poor sleep has been linked to severe traits including severe repetitive and restricted behaviors. The new study is unusual in that it links sleep problems with a subset of ‘higher-order’ restrictive and repetitive behaviors that include restricted interests, rituals or routines and an insistence on sameness. The study involved 38 autistic children aged 2 to 6 years and 19 children with developmental delay aged 2 to 4. Parents completed a standardized questionnaire about their children’s sleep problems at age 4 — including difficulty falling asleep, short sleep duration and parasomnias such as sleepwalking and night terrors. Clinicians assessed autism traits, including repetitive behaviors, around age 2 and at two or three later points in time. © 2020 Simons Foundation

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 14: Biological Rhythms, Sleep, and Dreaming
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning; Chapter 10: Biological Rhythms and Sleep
Link ID: 27208 - Posted: 04.22.2020

by Laura Dattaro Children with autistic older siblings have bigger neural responses than controls do in the brain networks that process faces, according to a new study1. The researchers followed these children from infancy to age 7, looking for relationships between neural signals and the children’s face-processing abilities that remained consistent during this period of development. The work is the first to track face processing in so-called ‘baby sibs’ — children who have autistic older siblings. Baby sibs are 20 times as likely to be diagnosed with autism as typical children are, and they often show autism traits early in life. For this reason, researchers frequently study them to get new clues about autism’s underlying biology. The new study shows the importance of monitoring neural activity and behavior over time to better understand autism, says lead investigator Tony Charman, chair of clinical child psychology at King’s College London in the United Kingdom. “If you measure both the neurocognitive abilities and the behaviors at multiple time points, maybe you get a better handle on the causal mechanisms,” Charman says. “If you understand the mechanisms, you’ve got at least a basis for talking about mechanistic-based interventions” — targeted therapies that might help ease autism traits. The team used electroencephalography (EEG) to measure the brain’s responses to faces and objects. One distinctive response, called the P1, occurs about 100 milliseconds after seeing any visual stimulus and is usually larger and faster when looking at a face. The N170 follows about 70 milliseconds later, mostly in the brain’s right hemisphere. This response is thought to mark the moment when the brain distinguishes a face from an object, or one face from another. In autistic children, the N170 is slower than in typical children2. © 2020 Simons Foundation

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning; Chapter 14: Attention and Higher Cognition
Link ID: 27204 - Posted: 04.17.2020

by Alla Katsnelson Several regions in the outer layer of the brain are thicker in children and young adults with autism than in their typical peers, a new study finds. The differences are greatest in girls, in children aged 8 to 10 years, and in those with a low intelligence quotient (IQ)1. During typical development, the brain’s outer layer, called the cerebral cortex, thickens until about age 2 and then grows gradually thinner into adolescence as the brain matures. The new study, one of the largest to investigate cortical thickness in autism, aligns with others that indicate this trajectory differs in people with the condition. The findings suggest that brain structure does not change in a uniform way in autism, but instead varies with factors such as age, gender and IQ, says lead researcher Mallar Chakravarty, assistant professor of psychiatry at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. These variations could help explain the inconsistent findings about cortical thickness and autism seen in earlier studies that did not consider such factors, says Christine Wu Nordahl, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of California, Davis MIND Institute, who was not involved in the work. “I think this is the type of study we need to be doing as a field, more and more,” she says. The researchers began with unprocessed magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scans of 3,145 participants from previous studies conducted at multiple institutions. © 2020 Simons Foundation

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 2: Functional Neuroanatomy: The Cells and Structure of the Nervous System
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning; Chapter 1: Cells and Structures: The Anatomy of the Nervous System
Link ID: 27188 - Posted: 04.14.2020

by Michael Marshall Some people with autism have an unusually large head: This fact has been known since autism was first described in the 1940s. But debate about this finding has raged ever since. How many people with autism have a large head? What causes the enlargement? And does it have any bearing on outcome? Here is what researchers do and do not know about head size in autism. What proportion of people with autism have a large head? When Leo Kanner first described 11 children with autism in a 1943 paper, he noted many unusual features. “Five had relatively large heads,” he reported, and he said no more on the matter. But the sample size was small. Many other scientists noted the same link over the following decades. A 1999 review estimated that 20 percent of people with autism have statistically large head size, or ‘macrocephaly’1. In 2011, the Autism Phenome Project refined this estimate to 15 percent of autistic boys2. The team followed boys with autism from their diagnosis throughout childhood. They focused on whether head size is disproportionate to the rest of the body, rather than simply large. The researchers call this ‘disproportionate megalencephaly’ and say it marks a distinct subgroup of autistic people. “We’ve defined a big-brain form of autism,” says lead investigator David Amaral, distinguished professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of California, Davis MIND Institute. No one contests the 15 percent figure, but scientists differ in their interpretation of the finding. “It only applies to a small proportion of children with autism,” says Katarzyna Chawarska, Emily Fraser Beede Professor of Child Psychiatry at Yale University. © 2020 Simons Foundation

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 2: Functional Neuroanatomy: The Cells and Structure of the Nervous System
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning; Chapter 1: Cells and Structures: The Anatomy of the Nervous System
Link ID: 27179 - Posted: 04.10.2020

By Lydia Denworth, It is lunchtime on a Sunday in January. At a long table inside a delicatessen in midtown Manhattan, a group of young people sit together over sandwiches and salads. Most of them have their phones out. One boy wears headphones around his neck. But there is less conversation than you might expect from a typical group of friends: One of the boys seems to talk only to himself, and a girl looks anxious and occasionally flaps her hands. The young people in this group are all on the spectrum. They met through a program organized by the nonprofit Actionplay, in which young people with autism or other disabilities work together to write and stage a musical. Each Sunday, the members refine characters and the script, block scenes and compose songs—and then some of them head across the street to have lunch together. “You meet other people just like you,” says Lexi Spindel, 15. The members share a group text in which they call themselves the Wrecking Crew. A few months ago, six of the girls went to see the movie “Frozen II” together. And Lexi and Actionplay veteran Adelaide DeSole, 21, spent a long afternoon at the Spindels’ apartment over the holiday season. The two young women played games and watched “SpongeBob SquarePants” and “Kung Fu Panda” on television. “That was the first time my daughter had a friend over,” says Lexi’s father, Jay Spindel. “That never happened before Actionplay.” © 2020 Simons Foundation

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 19: Language and Lateralization
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning; Chapter 15: Language and Lateralization
Link ID: 27178 - Posted: 04.10.2020

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 BN: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning
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 BN: 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 and Learning; 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 BN: Chapter 1: Introduction: Scope and Outlook; Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 20: ; Chapter 13: Memory and Learning
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 BN: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning
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 BN: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning
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 BN: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning
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 BN: 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 and Learning; Chapter 2: 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 BN: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning; 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 BN: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning
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 BN: Chapter 7: Life-Span Development of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory and Learning
Link ID: 26856 - Posted: 11.29.2019