Imbalances in Brain Equilibrium may be a Contributing Factor to ASD

A recent study has led to further insight into the complex nature of autism disorders. Researchers at HarvardUniversity recently studied autism mouse models to analyze the insular cortex, a “hub” that encompasses sensory, cognitive, and emotional content. Alterations in this cortex often lead to various disorders, including autism spectrum disorders (ASD).

Researchers noted that the balance of inhibition and excitation in autistic brains were disturbed, but could be re-adjusted, leading to potential development of targeted therapy, as well as more specific drug developments. In the past, it has been incredibly difficult to develop therapeutic strategies, as autism is diagnosed based on behavioral analysis, making the neurological issues that lead to the disorder’s development, hard to pin.

The team at Harvard focused on mouse models, as they possessed the diagnostic composition of autism disorders, such as repetitive behaviors, as well as deficits in communication and social abilities. Researchers focused on the insular cortex, which showed neural circuit alterations. Nadine Gogolla, leader of the research team, states, “We wanted to know whether we can detect differences in the way the insular cortex processes information in healthy or autism-like mice”. The scientists discovered that the insular cortex of adult autism-model mice resembled the activation patterns observed in very young control mice. Gogolla adds, “It seemed as if the insular cortex of the autism-models did not mature properly after birth”.

According to scientists, in order for the brain to function properly, there needs to be an equilibrium between excitation and inhibition. However, in this study, researchers found the equilibrium to be disturbed. Inhibitory function was strongly reduced in the autistic mouse models. To study this disturbance, researchers gave the drug Diazepam to the mice, which boosts inhibitory transmission in the brain. As the mice were treated over several days with Diazepam, the insular cortex capacity for sensory integration was reestablished.

Each of the autism mouse models showed alterations in their insular cortex, although the alterations were very diverse. The study results exhibit a strong imbalance of equilibrium between excitation and inhibition, giving researchers a great insight into some of the neurological issues underlying autism. Although this research provides a better understanding of some of the neurological factors in autism, therapies still need to be tailored to suit the individual needs of those touched by ASD. Individually designed therapies and drug developments will need to be created after further studies are done.

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