Brain tissue: what has it done for autism lately?

In order to ensure that researchers have enough brain tissue to understand autism spectrum disorders, the education and outreach campaign is being expanded past families to doctors and professionals that have access to tissue.  One of these groups is neuropathologists.  At their annual meeting this past week in Los Angeles, and entire afternoon was spent dedicated to autism and the features of autism in the brain.  A summary of the presentations is included in this podcast. Speakers emphasized that the way the brain works in childhood is not the same way it works in adulthood, and a study out of UCSD showed that the genes that are affected in children with autism are different than those in adults with autism.  The mechanisms of genes controlling the developing brain vs. those which affect ongoing maintenance are different.  This calls to make sure scientists understand all ages of people with autism, because as the brain changes, so do the needs of people with ASD.

What is the focus this week? The unsung heroes of grandparents and clinicians

Scientists have studied males compared to females with autism, but rarely has there been studies about what clinicians see as differences in these two groups.  Given that they provide insight on diagnosis, needs and access to services, it is kind of important to talk to them, and a study out this week in the journal Autism did just that.  You can find the full text here:

http://journals.sagepub.com/eprint/V5p3isSVAKDbdQf2jH4Q/full

Also, scientists are starting to understand the role of exposures in parents and how they affect diagnosis of autism in their children, but this week a new wrench was thrown into the wheel:  researchers in the UK found that grandparental exposures play a role in autism diagnosis too.  Luckily, this too is open access and you can read it for yourself.  It was covered in the media and we have perspective from a parent included.

https://www.nature.com/articles/srep46179

I discuss this second project with Jill Escher, founder of the Escher Fund for Autism and co-funder of the study.

What came first? Impaired social behaviors or something else that changes social behavior?

This week is a more philosophical, ideological discussion of the origins of social behaviors inspired by review articles written by Mayada Elsabbagh at McGill University and Boaz Barak and Guoping Feng at MIT. The focus of these papers are: when social behaviors emerge, and what brain regions are responsible for their existence. While Dr. Elsabbagh thinks of the question in terms of when behaviors and symptoms emerge in infancy, Drs. Barak and Feng consider the issue by comparing autism to Williams Syndrome. Williams Syndrome is very similar to autism except people with WS are hyper social and empathetic and sometimes gregarious. One tiny change on one area of one gene makes all the difference. This podcast doesn’t settle the question, but hopefully shows you listeners why there is a debate and how it is important for people with autism.