Researchers Analyze Specific Gene Linked to Autism Development

geneAutism spectrum disorders are incredibly complex, with researchers still trying to pin down a root cause. Recently, researchers from the University of Leeds have developed a potential lead to understanding what can be a factor in autism development. Their findings are being published in the Translational Psychiatry journal.

Researchers focused on the neurexin-II gene, which has already been associated with symptoms of autism. Researchers developed mice models to study how they would function with the gene absent. These mice acted similarly to individuals on the autism spectrum, with a lack of social ability or an interest in interacting with others.

Lead author, Dr. Steven Clapcote, lecturer of Pharmacology at the University’s Biological Sciences school, states, “In other respects, these mice were functioning normally.” He continues, “The gene deficiency mapped closely with certain autism symptoms. This is exciting because we now have an animal model to investigate new treatments for autism.” With the brain missing the neurexin-II, the MUNC 18-1 protein is also lowered. This protein is critical in releasing chemicals within the brain to make connections throughout different neurotransmitters, where messages are sent. The lack of these passageways can signify why autistic individuals have difficulty picking up various social clues.

Clapcote states, “Not all people with autism will have the neurexin-II defect, but we are starting to build up a picture of the important role of genes involved in these synapse communications in better understanding autism.”

This is a significant leap for researchers in understanding a particular reason why certain autism symptoms may develop.  Although there are only a few concrete findings in how autism can develop, there are still many theories that are being analyzed and tested. They range from antibodies in the immune system having an effect on the child’s brain, and the impact of the brain’s growth during a mother’s pregnancy. With autism being one of the most complex disorders in existence and  the diagnosis rate reaching a new high, it is essential for researchers to continue exploring other possibilities that may factor in the disorder’s development, as well as ways in which individuals can be treated.

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