Researchers at Princeton University are exploring early cerebellum injury as a possible cause of autism. Their theory suggests that an injury to the cerebellum (the part of the brain known to process external and internal including sensory cues) at a very early stage in life disrupts the brains processing of information and leads to problems in other parts of the brain.
“At some point, you learn that smiling is nice because Mom smiles at you. We have all these associations we make in early life because we don’t arrive knowing that a smile is nice,” explains associate professor of molecular biology and the Princeton Neuroscience Institute, Sam Wang. “In autism, something in that process goes wrong and one thing could be that sensory information is not processed correctly in the cerebellum.
The cerebellum has been largely studied in how it relates to motor function and coordination in adults. It has only recently been thought to influence childhood cognition. There have been several studies that found a statistical correlation between early cerebellum injury and the development of autism, but this study is pioneering our understanding of the process.
“What we realized from looking at the literature is that these two problems — autism and cerebellar injury — might be related to each other via the cerebellum’s influence on wider neural development,” Wang said. “We hope to get people and scientists thinking differently about the cerebellum or about autism so that the whole field can move forward.”
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