Autism May Stem From Heightened Senses

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In a recent study done by Harvard Medical School and Howard Hughes Medical Institute, autism may not just involve a brain disorder but also defects to the nervous system. In the study, researchers examined mice with defects only in their peripheral sensory neurons, the nerves found throughout the limbs, digits, and other parts of the body that communicate sensory information to the brain.

The defects to the neurons was caused by mutations (limited to the nervous system) of genes that are associated to ASD. By studying mice with only these gene mutations they were able to see the ultimate effects of the nervous system in itself on ASD as well as what effects a hypersensitivity to touch can have in general.

The scientists were able to show in their immediate results that mice with ASD-associated gene mutations have deficits in tactile perception, as you would imagine. In further results, they found that the mice with ASD gene mutations only in peripheral sensory neurons were more anxious around other mice and interacted less with them. The scientists were able to deduce that a greatly heightened level of touch can very much affect how one interacts with their environment and how they navigate the world around them.

Furthermore, they hypothesize that defects in touch could explain some pathologies and behaviors observed in patients with ASD. Due to this more direct connection with the nervous system, as opposed to the broad link to genes alone, the investigation is now taking a rapid turn towards finding genetic and pharmaceutical approaches to bringing peripheral sensory neuron levels back to a normal state. Perhaps, this will bring us a little closer to finding treatments as well as a better understanding of the complex nature of autism.

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