Autism alters the brain

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A new approach for those researching autism may be on the horizon following the publication of a US study which suggests that the brains of individuals with autism differ dramatically in structure from those of people without the condition.

Scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) have revealed how genes and proteins go awry in autism to alter the mind. While the cause of each person’s autism is unique, researchers found shared patterns in the ways genes and proteins interact in the brains of those with autism. Dr Daniel Geschwind, who led the study, believes that “This common thread could hold the key to pinpointing the disorder’s origins.”

Published in the journal Nature, the study focused on gene expression — how a gene’s DNA sequence is copied into Ribonucleic acid (RNA), which directs the synthesis of cellular molecules called proteins. Each protein is assigned a specific task by the gene to perform in the cell. By measuring gene expression levels in the cerebral cortex, the team uncovered consistent differences in how genes encode information in the brains of those with and without autism.

“We were surprised to see similar gene expression patterns in most of the autistic brains we studied,” says Irina Voineagu, first author of the study. “From a molecular perspective, half of these brains shared a common genetic signature. Given autism’s numerous causes, this was an unexpected and exciting finding.”

When the researchers compared the frontal and temporal lobes in non-autistic brains, they found that more than 500 genes were expressed at different levels in the two regions. In the autistic brains studied, however, these differences were virtually non-existent. The team is now looking to expand its search for the genetic and related causes of autism to other regions of the brain.

SEN News Team
Author: SEN News Team

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