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Researchers Find Autism Symptoms Lowered by Alzheimer’s-Associated Protein

Currently, no treatments exist that address the core symptoms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), such as impaired social interactions, communication deficits, and repetitive behaviors. In a new study, researchers at the Gladstone Institutes, a nonprofit biomedical organization, have reported that reducing the levels of a protein called tau prevented the core symptoms of autism from arising in mouse models of autism. Tau reduction also prevented the mice from having seizures, which occur in 30% of people with autism. Tau has not previously been linked to autism, but is known for its connection to Alzheimer’s and other degenerative brain conditions. Lennart Mucke, founding director of the Gladstone Institute of Neurological Disease and a senior author of the new paper, said the research has “uncovered an unexpected new connection between degenerative diseases of aging and developmental disorders of childhood.” According to a report by Medical Xpress.com, the new findings stemmed from research into the connection between Alzheimer’s disease and epilepsy. Mucke and his team had found that tau reduction prevents epileptic activity and cognitive problems in mice with autism. Dr. Chao Tai, a researcher on Mucke’s team, was intrigued by these findings, and wondered whether tau reduction could prevent the signs of autism that are often seen in Dravet’s Syndrome, a severe childhood epilepsy. Mucke and his colleagues found that reducing the tau protein in mice with Dravet’s Syndrome prevented the development of core autism symptoms. For their next step, the researchers tested the effect of tau reduction in a mouse model of autism that results from a very different genetic mutation. This also resulted in the autism-like behaviors being strongly suppressed. “Tau reduction appears to be the first strategy that can prevent both autism and epilepsy, two challenging conditions that all too often afflict the same people,” Mucke said. At the same time, he acknowledged that tau reduction will probably not be effective against all forms of autism, and more research is needed to determine exactly who might benefit from it. Mucke and his colleagues are now developing and testing drugs that could lower tau levels or increase the activity of the enzyme PTEN. Findings from other tau-lowering studies in people with Alzheimer’s might also be informative in regard to autism. Source: https://medicalxpress.com/news/2020-03-alzheimer-associated-protein-autism.html

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