New insight was gained recently into the brains of children with and without autism, according to a study published in the journal Neuron.
Although there are many neurological variations, one major difference between the brains is that the number of synapses (the channels through which neurons send messages) were found to be more than 50 percent higher in children with autism, Reuters reported.
Researchers learned that children whose brains develop normally begin to prune synapses as they age, but children with autism failed to do that effectively. It's important to note that their brains weren't producing more synapses; just having trouble paring them down. The overabundance of synapses correlates with the understanding that children with autism deal with sensory overload, as the synapses can stimulate the brain with too much light and sound.
The same study also found that the drug rapamycin had positive effects on lab mice with a specific, rare genetic disease associated with autism. After being given the drug, the mice experienced an improved synapse pruning process, and their autistic-like social behaviors (avoiding interactions) were reversed. "We were able to treat mice after the disease had appeared," neurobiologist David Sulzer of Columbia University Medical Center, who led the study, told Reuters. Although the drug is currently too dangerous to test on humans, it offers a possibility that a treatment for autism is in reach, "though there is a lot of work to be done," Dr. Sulzer said.
The CDC currently estimates that 1 in 68 children has some form of autism, which has no treatment plan. If successful, the drug has the potential to be groundbreaking. The nonprofit, Autism Speaks, is already funding multiple studies on rapamycin.
Children with Autism: The Parents Perspective
If your child has been diagnosed with autism, download these free family support tool kits from Autism Speaks.
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