Navigation Links
Einstein scientists propose new theory of autism
Date:4/1/2009

April 1, 2009 (BRONX, NY) Scientists at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University have proposed a sweeping new theory of autism that suggests that the brains of people with autism are structurally normal but dysregulated, meaning symptoms of the disorder might be reversible.

The central tenet of the theory, published in the March issue of Brain Research Reviews, is that autism is a developmental disorder caused by impaired regulation of the locus coeruleus, a bundle of neurons in the brain stem that processes sensory signals from all areas of the body.

The new theory stems from decades of anecdotal observations that some autistic children seem to improve when they have a fever, only to regress when the fever ebbs. A 2007 study in the journal Pediatrics took a more rigorous look at fever and autism, observing autistic children during and after fever episodes and comparing their behavior with autistic children who didn't have fevers. This study documented that autistic children experience behavior changes during fever.

"On a positive note, we are talking about a brain region that is not irrevocably altered. It gives us hope that, with novel therapies, we will eventually be able to help people with autism," says theory co-author Mark F. Mehler, M.D., chairman of neurology and director of the Institute for Brain Disorders and Neural Regeneration at Einstein.

Autism is a complex developmental disability that affects a person's ability to communicate and interact with others. It usually appears during the first three years of life. Autism is called a "spectrum disorder" since it affects individuals differently and to varying degrees. It is estimated that one in every 150 American children has some degree of autism.

Einstein researchers contend that scientific evidence directly points to the locus coeruleusnoradrenergic (LC-NA) system as being involved in autism. "The LC-NA system is the only brain system involved both in producing fever and controlling behavior," says co-author Dominick P. Purpura, M.D., dean emeritus and distinguished professor of neuroscience at Einstein.

The locus coeruleus has widespread connections to brain regions that process sensory information. It secretes most of the brain's noradrenaline, a neurotransmitter that plays a key role in arousal mechanisms, such as the "fight or flight" response. It is also involved in a variety of complex behaviors, such as attentional focusing (the ability to concentrate attention on environmental cues relevant to the task in hand, or to switch attention from one task to another). Poor attentional focusing is a defining characteristic of autism.

"What is unique about the locus coeruleus is that it activates almost all higher-order brain centers that are involved in complex cognitive tasks," says Dr. Mehler.

Drs. Purpura and Mehler hypothesize that in autism, the LC-NA system is dysregulated by the interplay of environment, genetic, and epigenetic factors (chemical substances both within as well as outside the genome that regulate the expression of genes). They believe that stress plays a central role in dysregulation of the LC-NA system, especially in the latter stages of prenatal development when the fetal brain is particularly vulnerable.

As evidence, the researchers point to a 2008 study, published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, that found a higher incidence of autism among children whose mothers had been exposed to hurricanes and tropical storms during pregnancy. Maternal exposure to severe storms at mid-gestation resulted in the highest prevalence of autism.

Drs. Purpura and Mehler believe that, in autistic children, fever stimulates the LC-NA system, temporarily restoring its normal regulatory function. "This could not happen if autism was caused by a lesion or some structural abnormality of the brain," says Dr. Purpura.

"This gives us hope that we will eventually be able to do something for people with autism," he adds.

The researchers do not advocate fever therapy (fever induced by artificial means), which would be an overly broad, and perhaps even dangerous, remedy. Instead, they say, the future of autism treatment probably lies in drugs that selectively target certain types of noradrenergic brain receptors or, more likely, in epigenetic therapies targeting genes of the LC-NA system.

"If the locus coeruleus is impaired in autism, it is probably because tens or hundreds, maybe even thousands, of genes are dysregulated in subtle and complex ways," says Dr. Mehler. "The only way you can reverse this process is with epigenetic therapies, which, we are beginning to learn, have the ability to coordinate very large integrated gene networks."

"The message here is one of hope but also one of caution," Dr. Mehler adds. "You can't take a complex neuropsychiatric disease that has escaped our understanding for 50 years and in one fell swoop have a therapy that is going to reverse it that's folly. On the other hand, we now have clues to the neurobiology, the genetics, and the epigenetics of autism. To move forward, we need to invest more money in basic science to look at the genome and the epigenome in a more focused way."


'/>"/>

Contact: Deirdre Branley
dbranley@aecom.yu.edu
718-430-2923
Albert Einstein College of Medicine
Source:Eurekalert

Related medicine news :

1. Einstein researchers discover protein that contributes to cancer spread
2. Lt. Col. Weinstein, New Book: Universal Health Care Will Not Work Unless
3. Senator Dianne Feinstein Denounces Prop 8
4. Feinstein Institute: Researching a Family Tree of Autoimmune Disorders
5. Chemical liberated by leaky gut may allow HIV to infect the brain, Einstein scientists find
6. Senators Chuck Hagel and Dianne Feinstein Make Lung Cancer Matter
7. NIH awards Einstein College of Medicine & Montefiore Medical Center $22M grant
8. Einstein-Montefiore Center for AIDS Research receives $8.5M award from NIH
9. The Feinstein to collaborate with Swedens Karolinska Institute
10. Pioneering Heart Surgeon, Robert E. Michler, M.D., Appointed Chair of Surgery and Surgeon-in-Chief at Einstein and at Montefiore Medical Center
11. Novel discovery by Einstein scientists could lead to much-needed kidney failure treatment
Post Your Comments:
*Name:
*Comment:
*Email:
(Date:3/28/2017)... ... 2017 , ... Award-winning medical group Allied Anesthesia today announced ... chair for Orange County health care system CalOptima Friday. CalOptima announced its election ... Mark Refowitz’s term, which runs through June 30 of this year, until another ...
(Date:3/28/2017)... ... March 28, 2017 , ... In its ... Success website has recently developed and published an informational resource that addresses frequently ... based on common inquiries the site’s team of third party administrator (TPA) contributors ...
(Date:3/28/2017)... CA (PRWEB) , ... March 28, 2017 , ... ... Carson Liu of SkyLex Advanced Surgical, Inc. is thrilled to offer the recently ... balloon procedure, and this procedure adds to SkyLex Advanced Surgical’s already comprehensive ...
(Date:3/28/2017)... ... , ... Oily skin is a common and unwelcomed occurrence in people of all ages, genders ... offer to the discussion of dealing with excess skin oil. “Oily skin is a challenge ... that can help remove the oily shine while keeping the skin fresh and clean,” says ...
(Date:3/27/2017)... ... 27, 2017 , ... New patients who have sleep apnea in ... or without a referral. Sleep apnea is often left untreated because patients are not ... and chronic snoring. , Dr. Braasch seeks to raise awareness of sleep apnea ...
Breaking Medicine News(10 mins):
(Date:3/27/2017)... , March 27, 2017  Sanderling Ventures, portfolio ... Ethicon, a division of Johnson & Johnson. Torax manufactures ... the treatment of gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD). The ... (MSA) technology and the procedure is currently available ... Torax Medical was founded by Sanderling Ventures, ...
(Date:3/27/2017)... FinancialBuzz.com News Commentary  ... According to a new report by Arcview Market Research, the ... 34 percent to $6.7 billion and can be expected to grow at ... five years, from $6.7 billion in 2016, to $22.6 billion in 2021. ... to purchase cannabis without a doctor,s recommendation. Voters in California ...
(Date:3/27/2017)... 2017 The staggering cost of cancer treatment ... access to the latest treatment options against cancer. Even ... patients have inadequate or no health insurance and are ... Access to modern cancer treatment is almost non-existent for ... The mission statements of pharmaceutical and biotech companies ...
Breaking Medicine Technology: