For the study, published in the April 25 issue of Science and Translational Medicine, researchers from the National Institutes of Health bred a strain of mice to display autism-like behaviors. Similar to how children with autism have social deficits and engage in repetitive behaviors, these mice did not interact and communicate with each other and spent an inordinate amount of time engaging in repetitive behavior - in this case self-grooming.
Cue the experimental drug called GRN-529. The drug was designed to inhibit a type of brain cell receptor that receives the neurotransmitter glutamate. Glutamate is typically involved in learning and memory processes and stimulates other areas of the brain and nervous system.
When mice with the autism-like behaviors were injected with the experimental compound, they reduced the frequency of their repetitive self-grooming and spent more time around strange mice, even sniffing them nose to nose. When tested on a different strain of mice, the experimental compound stopped all repetitive jumping behavior.
"These new results in mice support NIMH-funded research in humans to create treatments for the core symptoms of autism," Dr. Thomas R. Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, said in a statement. "While autism has been often considered only as a disability in need of rehabilitation, we can now address autism as a disorder responding to biomedical treatments."
Image: Lab researcher, via Shutterstock