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Study: Autistic Brains Are Chemically Different

Researchers show how autistic brains are different.

Scientists are learning more about the brains of people with autism and how they differ from those without.

Autism spectrum disorders are believed to be caused by a combination of genetics and the environment.  As Professor Daniel Geschwind, from the University of California, Los Angeles, says “If you randomly pick 20 people with autism, the cause of each person’s disease will be unique.

But an examination of how genes and proteins interact in autistic people’s brains revealed there were shared patterns that could hold the answer to defining the origin of autism.

The study, published in the journal Nature, showed the unique characters of the frontal and temporal lobes had disappeared.

Different genes should be active in each region, but autistic brains had the same pattern of gene expression.  The frontal and temporal lobes strongly resembled one another. Scientists argue this is likely due to defective brain development.

As the BBC reports:

Scientists compared samples from 19 autistic brains and 17 without.  They noticed that 209 genes linked to the way brain cells work and talk to each other were working at a lower level in autistic brains while 235 genes linked to immune and inflammatory responses were expressed more strongly.  The researchers said many of these genes had already been linked to the condition.

If scientists can replicate these findings they may be closer to discovering what exactly causes autism and developing interventions that could reduce its more disabling effects.

The study is similar to one conducted last year by UCLA and Scripps, which showed a disconnect between the frontal lobe and the rest of the brain. As my colleague Heather Turgeon reported, that would make sense as the frontal lobes are important for emotional regulation and social connection… but it’s still only another piece of the genetic puzzle researchers are still trying to put together.

Dear Stranger: Should you tell a parent their child is autistic?

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