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New Findings in Autism

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Autism related image Photo: Getty Images

With more research hours and funds put into studying neuro-behavioral conditions like autism, ADHD, etc., than ever before, more is coming to be known about these otherwise baffling disorders. Thus research gives us a new perspective on how we look at these situations and helps us manage and treat them better. So, what are the latest findings on autism? Here is a brief on two research projects:

1. Copy-Number Variations or CNVs studied in the Autism Genome Project (AGP):

The Autism Genome Project began in 2004. The initial phase of the project aimed at accumulating the world’s largest gene bank to be able to identify autism susceptibility genes. This was successfully concluded in early 2007 and was known as AGP Phase 1. It was a large scale collaborative research project with more than 120 scientists from the U.S. and U.K. joining in to study and share their knowledge on the subject.

In June, 2010, Singularity Hub ran an article stating that the scientists of the AGP Phase 1 were agreeing that a type of genetic mutation called copy number variations was at the center of ASD (Source: Singularity Hub; Article Name: New Research Sheds Light on Autism’s Genetic Causes; Author: Drew Halley; Date: June 15th, 2010; URL: http://singularityhub.com/2010/06/15/new-research-sheds-light-on-autism%E2%80%99s-genetic-causes/).

It went on to explain that since we inherit 23 chromosomes from each parent, we have two copies of each gene or DNA segment. When there are alterations of the DNA of a genome, one outcome could be an abnormal number of copies of one or more sections of the DNA. This is called the copy number variation, or CNV. It may also happen that a deletion leaves one set, and sometimes "duplication" results in three or more sets.

It was also detected that there was a positive correlation between CNVs and occurrence of autism in the child. Such CNVs went ahead to affect neuronal and intellectual development of the child.

AGP Phase 2 is currently ongoing and aims to identify meaningful common and rare genetic variants that are associated with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) including copy number variations.

2. An article published in The Science Daily on Feb. 24, 2011 confirmed the role of neurotransmitter serotonin in autism, based on studies by Georgianna Gould, Ph.D., research assistant professor of physiology in the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter hormone. It is present in the brain and the gut of the human body. Brain cells or neurons communicate with each other with the help of serotonin. When a neuron wants to communicate a signal/message to another cell, it releases serotonin into the synaptic gap (the point where two neurons meet). The next neuron picks the serotonin embedded message and this chain continues till the message is relayed to the appropriate center of the brain. Once the message is relayed to the next cell, the first serotonin donor cell reuptakes the serotonin from the synaptic gap to reload it with the next message.

It has been found that there is a serotonin deficiency in the brain of the autistic children and this eventually creates anomalies of behavior in the affected child. Experiments with mice have shown that a chemical called buspirone helps improve social behavior by increasing the amount of serotonin available for message transmission. However, experiments on mice may not hold entirely true for humans and their degree of effectiveness varies. (Experiment Support: Support from the San Antonio Area Foundation made the project possible. Co-authors of the journal article are Julie Hensler, Ph.D., and Teri Frosto Burke, M.S., of the pharmacology department at the Health Science Center; Lynette Daws, Ph.D., of the university's physiology department in whose lab the work was conducted; and Robert Benno, Ph.D., and Emmanuel Onaivi, Ph.D., of the biology department at William Paterson University in Wayne, N.J.). Buspirone is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use in adults as an anti-anxiety and antidepressant adjuvant medication.

A serotonin precursor (i.e., a substance that is converted into serotonin during the metabolic process) called tryptophan is now recommended for inclusion both in diet and as supplement for the affected children.


Mamta Singh is a published author of the books Migraines for the Informed Woman (Publisher: Rupa & Co. URL: http://www.amazon.com/Migraines-Informed-Woman-Tips-Sufferer/dp/8129115174/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1298990756&sr=1-2), the upcoming Rev Up Your Life! (Publisher: Hay House India) and Mentor Your Mind (Publisher: Sterling Publishers). She is also a seasoned business, creative and academic writer. She is a certified fitness instructor, personal trainer & sports nutritionist through IFA, Florida USA. Mamta is an NCFE-certified Holistic Health Therapist SAC Dip U.K. She is the lead writer and holds Expert Author status in many well-received health, fitness and nutrition sites. She runs her own popular blogs on migraines in women and holistic health. Mamta holds a double Master's Degree in Commerce and Business. She is a registered practitioner with the UN recognised Art of Living Foundation.

Add a Comment2 Comments

Thanks for sharing more information on Autism!

May 12, 2011 - 10:35pm

More kids with autism? Current estimates regarding autism rates are being challenged. A South Korean study sampled a random selection of thousands of individuals, and found that more children tested positive for autism than had been diagnosed in the general population. Autism might be affecting more people than current estimates indicate. Here is the proof: Autism rates could be higher than previously thought

May 12, 2011 - 11:19pm
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