Fruit Flies Provide Insight into Autism

As part of the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN Initiative), scientists are studying the brains of fruit flies to learn more about the basic functions of the human brain.

Scientists say in order to discover more about the human brain, they will have to learn more about smaller brains, like those of mice and insects.

“What you need is access to circuits and cells, and that probably means not in humans,” says Professor Leslie Tolbert of the University of Arizona neuroscience department.

One part of the study is focusing on why individuals with autism often face heightened sensitivity to lights, sounds and odors.

Rachel Wilson, a Harvard neurobiologist, suspects that this might be due to malfunctions in brain circuits that control the “volume” of sensory signals. Since there is no easy way to study this in humans,Wilson began the research on fruit flies.

She found that special brain circuits work like the gas and break petals in a car.

“When odors are very faint, the gas dominates, making the brain more sensitive,”Wilsonsays. “But when odors are intense, then it’s the brakes that dominate, reducing sensitivity and preventing the olfactory system from being overwhelmed.”

Although fruit flies are best for learning about basic functions of the human brain, they do provide certain insights- like how sensory volume probably works in humans.

This type of information can help researchers learn why individuals with autism are overwhelmed by bright lights and loud noises, thus leading to better treatment.

For more information on autism research, read here:


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