Autism May Stem From Heightened Senses

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In a recent study done by Harvard Medical School and Howard Hughes Medical Institute, autism may not just involve a brain disorder but also defects to the nervous system. In the study, researchers examined mice with defects only in their peripheral sensory neurons, the nerves found throughout the limbs, digits, and other parts of the body that communicate sensory information to the brain.

The defects to the neurons was caused by mutations (limited to the nervous system) of genes that are associated to ASD. By studying mice with only these gene mutations they were able to see the ultimate effects of the nervous system in itself on ASD as well as what effects a hypersensitivity to touch can have in general.

The scientists were able to show in their immediate results that mice with ASD-associated gene mutations have deficits in tactile perception, as you would imagine. In further results, they found that the mice with ASD gene mutations only in peripheral sensory neurons were more anxious around other mice and interacted less with them. The scientists were able to deduce that a greatly heightened level of touch can very much affect how one interacts with their environment and how they navigate the world around them.

Furthermore, they hypothesize that defects in touch could explain some pathologies and behaviors observed in patients with ASD. Due to this more direct connection with the nervous system, as opposed to the broad link to genes alone, the investigation is now taking a rapid turn towards finding genetic and pharmaceutical approaches to bringing peripheral sensory neuron levels back to a normal state. Perhaps, this will bring us a little closer to finding treatments as well as a better understanding of the complex nature of autism.

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Is Autism All Stemming from One Gene?

A recent study led by psychologists at the University of Georgia has detected that people with autism may have less ability to form healthy relationships or recognize emotional states due to a process called methylation and its effect in the production of oxytocin.

The study’s lead author, Brian W. Haas, quoted that “Methylation restricts how much a gene is expressed. An increase in methylation corresponds to a decrease in the expression of a gene. When methylation increases on the OXT gene, this may correspond to a reduction in this gene’s activity.” This would mean that those with higher levels of methylation processing would have decreased levels of the oxytocin hormone which, Haas states “can have a profound impact on social behaviors.”

In the studies they found that participants with greater methylation levels and less oxytocin had more difficulty recognizing emotional facial expressions and had more anxiety about relationships with loved ones. They also found that those individuals had reduced neural activity in brain regions associated with social-cognitive processing during tasks where these areas should have been activated.

Haas believes that methylation can be altered during a persons lifetime and it’s possible that medication could help people who have difficulty with social cognition. He and his co-authors believe there is still a lot of work to be done to discover the exact role of oxytocin, but they hope that in the future they can better understand this hormone and genes related to it and find better treatments for social disorders.

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Does Autism Speed Aging?

Everyone is always discussing the importance of diagnosing Autism early, but to what extent and effect? Recent studies have found that communication has improved for those children diagnosed early and that it may be possible that certain people on the spectrum adapt almost to the effect that their earlier diagnosis becomes unrecognizable.

Now, the Barrow Neurological Institute and the Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center (SARRC) in Phoenix are accepting men ages 18-25 and 40-60 who can return to Phoenix every 2 years for a new study. They are hoping to find the exact differences in the brain between those who are diagnosed young and received early treatment and those who are diagnosed much later on in life and receive less treatment. Among the many hypotheses, they believe they may see a correspondence in Autism and the expedience of aging itself. Their main goal is, as it has been for so long, finding the neurological key to a world of independence for those with ASD.

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Autism Awareness Absent in Africa

n many countries there is widespread knowledge of Autism diagnosis and treatments and awareness is rising. However, in Nigeria there are tens of millions of parents that have yet to be informed about Autism Spectrum Disorder and the related symptoms that their child may be exhibiting.

Autism symptoms are unique in that they don’t always develop in the same order for all children but they usually manifest fully at around 24 months of age. Before 24 months, a parent may notice a lack of language entirely or some language and then long lapses in development from there on out. In Nigeria, there is a lack of a system to provide the necessary early diagnosis and support for children with ASD and their parents and, due to the lack of knowledge, many people end up attributing Autism symptoms to cultural or spiritual causes.

The Guaranty Trust Bank, GTBank, is planning to change this by raising awareness with the 5th edition of their Annual Autism programme. Their primary concern, according to the Managing Director of Guaranty Trust Bank, Seguin Agbaje, is to make it well known that “children with disability can live a meanaingful life and can rise to the highest levels in the pursuit of their dreams when given a chance to cultivate their inner skills and maximize their potentials.”

The GTBank will be hosting a conference with different classes facilitated by well-known professionals concerning ASD to further support their community and they are hopeful for a large attendance.

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The “Route” of Autism – New Brain Map Reveals Neural Processes

Scientists have always taken advanced measures to get into your head but now, they’ve found a way to give themselves and others directions along the way. USC scientists are creating a map of uncharted territory in a mouse brain to see the roadblocks that cause Huntington’s disease and autism.

The scientists focused on the “cell highways” of the dorsal striatum, the center for motor learning, and located the main hubs that coordinate complex limb movements, as Parkinson’s disease, obsessive compulsive disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder all involve this brain region. Hong-Wei Dong, an associate professor of neurology at USC, believes that by beginning his brain mapping in an area known for circuit disruption with diseases, he can get a better idea of how to predict problem areas within this particular portion of the brain and hone in even further to figure out how to understand this phenomenon. Lead author and assistant professor of research, Houri Hiniryan, also stated, “If you have one big structure, it’s very difficult to know which part is the problem area.”

The mouse brain has always been the foundation of human brain research as the structure is so similar and the biggest differences between both concern the level of high-cognition. By understanding the mouse brain at great detail, scientists believe they will make great strides in new drugs and medical therapies.

Perhaps more important for autism, their research has now made the most detailed and complex map of the connection between the cerebral cortex and the dorsal striatum, which processes motor learning and attention. Because of this research, any circuit disruptions will become evident and researchers will be able to see the effects drugs make on specific disruptions and will know where to place stem cells.

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