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Last updated on April 19, 2014 at 5:20 EDT

Research Provides Clues To Neurodevelopemental Disorders

November 14, 2011

Findings show how brain’s structure and genes affect autism and fragile X syndrome

Research released today shows that scientists are finding new tools to help understand neurodevelopmental disorders like autism and fragile X syndrome. These studies show in new detail how the brain’s connections, chemicals, and genes interact to affect behavior. The research findings were presented at Neuroscience 2011, the Society for Neuroscience’s annual meeting and the world’s largest source of emerging news about brain science health.

Neurodevelopmental disorders like autism-spectrum disorders and fragile X syndrome are often diagnosed as the brain is developing and a child’s difficulty communicating and interacting with others is perceptible. One in every 110 children is diagnosed with an autism-spectrum disorder.

Today’s new findings show that:

    Children with bipolar disorder look at facial features other than the eyes when determining facial expressions. The findings may explain why they have difficulty identifying emotions, like children with autism (Pilyoung Kim, PhD, abstract 299.10, see attached summary).
    An enzyme called STEP is elevated in a mouse study of fragile X syndrome. Removing that protein makes the mice more social, suggesting a new therapeutic target (Susan Goebel-Goody, PhD, abstract 238.02, see attached summary).
    The gene that causes fragile X syndrome is associated with brain structure and working memory in healthy men, a finding that may explain why its loss causes disease (Susan Rivera, PhD, abstract 645.08, see attached summary).

Another recent finding discussed shows that:

    Animal studies explore synaptic and behavioral abnormalities related to a candidate gene for autism and the autism-related disorder Phelan-McDermid Syndrome (Joseph Buxbaum, PhD, see attached speaker summary).

“This research is imperative in investigating the causes of neurodevelopmental disorders, which begin early in development and change the trajectory of so many lives,” said press conference moderator and child neurologist Emanuel DiCicco-Bloom, MD, of the UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. “With the help of further research, scientists and clinicians can lay a foundation for effective education, early intervention, and new treatments.”

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