STANFORD, Calif. Neuroscientists at Stanford University School of Medicine have homed in on potential differences in autistic people's brain cells by studying brainlike spheres grown in an elaborate process from skin cells.
The scientists studied cells from patients with Timothy syndrome, a rare genetic condition that is associated with one of the most penetrant forms of autism: In other words, most people with the Timothy syndrome mutation have autism as a symptom, among other problems.
Autism is a spectrum of developmental disorders of impaired social and verbal interaction. Currently, no medication exists to treat its underlying causes, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Understanding what goes awry in autistic brain development could improve prospects for treating the condition.
In this study, the scientists suggest that the autism in Timothy syndrome patients is caused by a gene mutation that makes calcium channels in neuron membranes defective, interfering with how those neurons communicate and develop. The flow of calcium into neurons enables them to fire, and the way that the calcium flow is regulated is a pivotal factor in how our brains function.
The researchers also found brain cells grown from individuals with Timothy syndrome resulted in fewer of the kind of cells that connect both halves of the brain, as well as an overproduction of two of the brain's chemical messengers, dopamine and norepinephrine. Furthermore, they found they could reverse these effects by chemically blocking the faulty channels.
Postdoctoral scholar Sergiu Pasca, MD, and Ricardo Dolmetsch, PhD, associate professor of neurobiology, led the study, which will be published online Nov. 27 in Nature Medicine. Dolmetsch, a biophysicist, redirected his research to study autism after his son was diagnosed with Timothy syndrome. It's unclear what leads to autism, but its incidence is increasing, he said.
|Contact: Bruce Goldman|
Stanford University Medical Center