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Scripps Florida scientists find connection between gene mutation, key symptoms of autism
Date:4/25/2014

JUPITER, FL April 25, 2014 Scientists have known that abnormal brain growth is associated with autism spectrum disorder. However, the relationship between the two has not been well understood.

Now, scientists from the Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have shown that mutations in a specific gene that is disrupted in some individuals with autism results in too much growth throughout the brain, and yet surprisingly specific problems in social interactions, at least in mouse models that mimic this risk factor in humans.

"What was striking is that these were basically normal animals in terms of behavior, but there were consistent deficits in tests of social interaction and recognitionwhich approximate a major symptom of autism," said Damon Page, a TSRI biologist who led the study. "This suggests that when most parts of the brain are overgrown, the brain somehow adapts to it with minimal effects on behavior in general. However, brain circuits relevant to social behavior are more vulnerable or less able to tolerate this overgrowth."

The study, which focuses on the gene phosphatase and tensin homolog (PTEN), was recently published online ahead of print by the journal Human Molecular Genetics.

Autism spectrum disorder is a neurodevelopmental disorder involving a range of symptoms and disabilities involving social deficits and communication difficulties, repetitive behaviors and interests, and sometimes cognitive delays. The disorder affects in approximately one percent of the population; some 80 percent of those diagnosed are male.

In a previous study, Page and colleagues found that mutations in Pten causes increased brain size and social deficits, with both symptoms being exacerbated by a second "hit" to a gene that regulates levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain. In the new study, the TSRI team set out to explore whether mutations in Pten result in widespread or locali
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Contact: Eric Sauter
esauter@scripps.edu
267-337-3859
Scripps Research Institute
Source:Eurekalert  

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