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Posts Tagged ‘Autism’

HealthDay (http://tinyurl.com/self-reflection-autism 12/18, Preidt) reported the brains of autistic people are less active than expected when they’re engaged in self-reflective thought, a finding that helps explain autism-related social difficulties, say British researchers.  Using functional MRI, they measured the brain activity of 66 males, half of whom had autism, while they were asked questions about their own or the Queen’s thoughts, opinions,preferences, or physical characteristics.  The researchers were particularly interested in an area of the brain called the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, which is known to be active when people think about themselves.  In non-autistic volunteers, this part of the brain was more active when they were asked questions about themselves than when they were thinking about the Queen. But the response was equal when those with autism were asked about themselves and the Queen.  “This new study shows that within the autistic brain, regions that typically prefer self-relevant information make no distinction between thinking about the self or another person. This is strong evidence that in the autistic brain, processing itself is atypical,” said Michael Lombardo of the Autism Research Centre at the University of Cambridge.  “The atypical way the autistic brain treats self-relevant information as equivalent to information about others could derail a child’s social development, particularly in understanding how they relate to the social world around them.”

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dnaMedwire (10/23, Davenport) reports, “Disrupted in schizophrenia 1 (DISC1) gene variants play a role in the development of psychiatric illness yet there is significant heterogeneity in clinically relevant variants between populations,” according to a study  (http://tinyurl.com/DISC1-gene) in Molecular Psychiatry. “Although schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder (BD), major depression, autism, and Asperger syndrome have all been linked to DISC1, no actual causal variants have been identified.” But, after genotyping study participants “for the presence of 75 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in the translin-associated protein X and DISC1 genes,” investigators discovered that “rs1538979 SNP was significantly associated with BD I males” and “the rs821577 SNP was significantly linked with BD females…at odds ratios of 2.73 and 1.64, respectively.”

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autismHealthDay (10/21, Preidt) reported that, according to a study appearing online Oct. 21 in the journal BMC Medicine, researchers from Duke University say they have discovered that “people with autism have a higher-than-normal number of gene-regulating molecules called methyl groups in a region of the genome that regulates oxytocin receptor expression.” In fact, “in both blood samples and brain tissue, the methylation status of specific nucleotides in the oxytocin receptor gene is significantly higher in someone with autism, about 70 percent, compared to the control population, where it is about 40 percent,” the authors explained. They suggested that “higher methylation of the oxytocin receptor gene may result in less sensitivity to the hormone” which “affects social interaction.”

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autismBBC News (8/4) reported that, according to a study published in Neuropsychologia, “problems processing visual information may stop those with autism [from] interpreting body language, harming their ability to gauge others’ emotions.” For the study, researchers from the UK’s University of Durham examined “13 adults with autism and found the patients had difficulty identifying emotions, such as anger or happiness, when shown short animated video clips.” Next, the participants with autism, “along with 16 adults with no autism diagnosis…were also shown a number of dots on a computer screen and asked which way they were moving.” The investigators found that “the performance of the autism group was significantly below that of the others in both tests, leading” them “to speculate that there may be serious differences between the ability to process visual information.” The authors pointed “to an area of the brain needed for the perception of motion called the superior temporal sulcus,” citing “previous research which has found that this area responds differently in people with autism.”

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Medscape (5/14, Frei) reported that, according to a study presented at an autism meeting, “an analysis of medication use in children with autism reveals polypharmacy is common, with up to 20 percent of children between the ages of three and 12 years being prescribed four or more medications.” For the analysis, researchers from thepharm4uta-128 University of Washington-Seattle “included 75 children enrolled in the long-term Collaborative Programs of Excellence in Autism. The study found that 52 percent used at least one psychotropic medication between the ages of three and 12 years, and 20 percent had taken four or more.” Medicines most commonly prescribed “were stimulants and antidepressants, followed by antipsychotics and other psychotropics.” In fact, the “team found antidepressants were initiated in children as young as three years old and antipsychotics in children as young as four years old.” The authors “didn’t expect to see so much polypharmacy,” they said.

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autism_ribbonTime (5/4, Wallis) reported that researchers are identifying “the signs of autism at ever earlier ages.” According to psychologist Wendy Stone, of Vanderbilt University’s Treatment and Research Institute for Autism Spectrum Disorders, “the average age of first concern is 17 months, though a diagnosis isn’t typically made until age three.” Researchers are now “identifying the signs of autism before age two” by “the absence of typical behavior, as opposed to the presence of aberrations.” For example, “among the telltale signs of trouble at 12 months: not responding to one’s name; not sharing interests through pointing and eye gaze; lack of joyful expression; an absence of babbling; difficulty establishing eye contact; and staring too long at inanimate objects.” Parents should know, however, that “no single behavior is indicative, and researchers believe that rather than being given a definitive diagnosis, tots with several of these behaviors should be identified as ‘at risk’ and referred to early-intervention programs.”

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On the front of its Science Times section, the New York Times (3/17, D1, McNeil) reports that a community of Somali immigrants in the Minneapolis area fear there is an “outbreak” of autism among their children. “But public health experts say it is hard to tell whether the apparent surge of cases is an actual outbreak, with a cause that can be addressed, or just a statistical fluke.” To find out, “the Minnesota Department of Health is conducting an epidemiological survey in consultation with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This kind of conundrum, experts say, arises whenever there is a cluster of noncontagious illnesses.” And for autism, since the disease’s “cause…is unknown, the authorities in Minnesota say it is hard to know even what to investigate.” Still, “many Somali parents are baffled and scared,” and “antivaccine activists are campaigning among them, which worries public health officials, especially because some families go back and forth to Somalia, where measles is still a significant cause of childhood death.” But, “even if the department confirms that a cluster exists, it will not answer the question why.”

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BBC News (1/22) reports that a team at Britain’s Institute of Child Health said that children diagnosed with autism “have severe versions of character traits probably shared by millions of others.” In fact, a study of 8,000 children by the institute “found even these mild traits could impair development.” While “a relatively small number of children — approximately 116 per 10,000 — are said to have an autistic disorder,” the study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry “provides further evidence that the same traits do not begin and end there, but continue…into the whole population of children, just at a level which does not lead parents to seek medical help.” Researchers said that “seeing autism as a ‘distinct illness’ was probably wrong.” In an editorial accompanying the study, “John Constantino, M.D., from Washington University, said that the idea that autism represented the ‘severe end’ of a natural distribution of abilities could help scientists looking for the genetics underlying the condition, or for ways to treat it.”

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The New York Times (11/11, D4, Carey) reports that Bernard Crespi, Ph.D., a biologist at Simon Fraser University in Canada, and Christopher Badcock, Ph.D., a sociologist at the London School of Economics, “have published a sweeping theory of brain development that would change the way mental disorders like autism and schizophrenia are understood.” The Times explains that the researchers “propose that an evolutionary tug of war between genes from the father’s sperm and the mother’s egg can, in effect, tip brain development in one of two ways. A strong bias toward the father pushes a developing brain along the autistic spectrum,” whereas a “bias toward the mother moves the growing brain along what the researchers call the psychotic spectrum.” This means that autism and schizophrenia may “represent opposite ends of a spectrum that includes most, if not all, psychiatric and developmental brain disorders.” The theory may have research implications, but Matthew Belmonte, a neuroscientist at Cornell University, noted, “The reality… is that many of the details of their theory are going to be wrong; and it is, at this point, just a theory.”

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New developments in early indicators of autism are discussed in this article focusing on a study that indicates children with autism may make limited eye contact.

http://www.oregonlive.com/health/oregonian/index.ssf?/base/news/1217967909101720.xml&coll=7

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