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)