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Research on mice suggests that it may be possible to develop drugs to treat neurological conditions such as autism.

Scientists from the US National Institutes of Health have been running a study which builds on recent research suggesting that some cases of autism may be caused by mutations in the genes which control the formation and maturation of synapses.

The study used mice which exhibit classic behavioural characteristics of autism —unusual social interactions, impaired communication, and repetitive behaviours — and tested their responses to a drug called GRN-529, which is designed to help different brain cells communicate with each other. The team say that the drug appeared to reduce the incidence of repetitive behaviour and reverse “the striking lack of sociability” in the mice.

While the researchers caution that drug treatments which are effective in mice often fail in humans, they say in a statement that “These findings raise the possibility that a single targeted pharmacological intervention may alleviate multiple diagnostic behavioral symptoms of autism.” Any possible drug treatment for autism would, however, take many years to develop.

The study is published in Science Translational Medicine and can be found at:
http://stm.sciencemag.org/content/4/131/131ra51

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