The Science of Autism

In the ever-present search for more information on how to help our students, we are always running into small bits of research on what might have something to do with the possibility of what might have a slight connection to the medical explanation for that communication variance we call Autism. Am I right?

I poke fun, but this is exactly what it feels like to read through this research. We do want more information, the more the merrier I usually say, but in this case, there are way too many loose ends to tie together for the information to bring us much insight. Most of the conclusions doesn’t go far enough, or only lead to many, many more questions. That’s OK- we’re very used to it. 🙂

Here are a few more strands for you to weave with the rest of your autism knowledge:

1. Microbe Research leads to new discoveries:

 Right now a lot of microbiome research is about pattern discovery. We’re finding connections between microbes and all kinds of conditions we never knew they were involved with — ranging from obesity to colon cancer to rheumatoid arthritis and (in mouse models) even things like autism, depression and multiple sclerosis.

2. Gene Research reveals connections:

The two new studies, published in the advance online edition of Nature on Oct. 29, tied mutations in more than 100 genes to autism. Sixty of these genes met a “high-confidence” threshold indicating that there is a greater than 90 percent chance that mutations in those genes contribute to autism risk.

3. Other genetic research reveals differing risk genes between siblings:

“We knew that there were many differences in autism, but our recent findings firmly nail that down. We believe that each child with autism is like a snowflake – unique from the other.” -Dr. Scherer

4. Dartmouth study findings contradict the synapses “pruning” theories:

Recent media coverage has surrounded the idea that autism is associated with a lack of “pruning” or refinement of excitatory synapses later in development. But the Dartmouth study argues against this, saying it is not a failure of “pruning” that results in the ultimate increase in excitatory synapses, but an increase in new production of excitatory synapses. Further, they found a tight interrelationship between the structural and functional changes produced by the Pten gene knockout.

5. Research reveals a possible solution for alleviating symptoms by reducing inflammation in the brain:

Prof. Arking explains that previous studies have identified abnormalities in cells that are linked to autism, which support brain and spinal cord neurons. As such, he and his team were able to identify a specific type of one of these support cells, called a microglial cell. Microglial cells “police” the brain for threats and pathogens, the researchers say.

After analyzing the brains, the researchers discovered that in the brains of individuals with autism, the microglia were constantly activated and their inflammation response genes were turned on.

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