Tadpoles Reveal Possible Link Between Epilepsy and Autism

tadpoles epilespy and autism

There have been many studies analyzing the relationship between mothers who take anti-epileptic drugs and the elevated risk for Autism in their children. However, researchers from Brown University have recently made discoveries that bring a broader understanding on neurodevelopment disorders.

In this experiment they exposed tadpoles to valporic acid (VAP), a drug widely used as an anti-seizure and mood-stabilizing medication, and focused on how it effected the development in the brain. More specifically they concentrated on the optic tectum, an area that is known for sensory processing.

In the brain, a network of neurons connects to each other by axons and dendrites. They found that those axons and dendrites of the VPA exposed tadpoles were growing and branching out irregularly. The activity levels in this area were measured and found to be higher in frequency, in both excitatory and inhibitory in comparison to non-VPA exposed tadpoles.

Typically, the maturating brain achieves efficiency by pruning back connections that do not get used. However, in the VPA exposed tadpoles it showed an overgrowth in neural connections. This overwhelming growth may be a possible explanation for many behaviors that parallel with an Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Furthermore, observations in behavior showed substantial differences regarding socialization, spatial awareness, reactions to loud noises, and susceptibility to seizures. Those tadpoles that were exposed to VPA were found to be less likely to school or swim around with other tadpoles. Also, when researchers would project images at bottom of the Petri dishes, the tadpoles tended to collide with them. They had an inability to cope with startling sounds and had more frequent seizures compared to normal tadpoles.

Although these tadpoles are not considered to be “Autistic” their behaviors appear to be somewhat aligned with humans who have autism. With these new discoveries, researchers hope to learn how exactly VPA causes certain disorders. Through this they also wish to indentify a biological mark that will aid in the intervention of neurodevelopment disorders, including Autism Spectrum Disorder. By finding these biological markers they would like to find a common mechanism in hopes to gain a better understanding or prevent other brain disorders.

Written by Raiza Belarmino

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