Brain’s chemical role in autism

Dina Francescutti works at Dr. Donald Kuhn’s neuroscience lab at the Detroit VA Medical Center and Wayne State University where a recent study found autism-like behaviors in mice lacking the gene for the brain chemical serotonin. (Photo by Larry Marchionda)

A recent study at the John D. Dingell VA Medical Center in Detroit and Wayne State University found that mice deficient in the chemical serotonin in the brain showed behaviors characteristic of autism. The mice in the study lacked a gene critical for serotonin production by being genetically altered. The neurotransmitter is one of the brain’s self-styled “feel good” chemicals. Studies have traced its role in a range of brain disorders, especially depression and anxiety, but  very little research linking it to autism has been done.   In the study, mutant mice that had the brain chemical removed, displayed a range of social and communication deficits, along with repetitive and obsessive behaviors. Like they failed  to show an inclination for maternal smell, or be able to search for new items in their cage. In essence, the  study indicates that increasing serotonin during vital periods of brain development in early life may potentially help to rewire emerging brain circuits and ward off autism.

(PLoS One Journal, Nov. 6, 2012)

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