After decades of research, scientists have finally discovered how autism develops at a very early stage, a discovery that could lead to new treatments.
Neurons in people with autism have different growth patterns and grow at a faster pace, according to a new study. To reach these conclusions, researchers at Salk Institute compared the creation of stem cells in autistic individuals with those of control individuals. They took skin cells from eight people with autism and five healthy people, and then transformed them into pluripotent stem cells (cells that have the capacity to develop into any type of cells in the body).
We still do not know what causes the disease
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a fairly common disorder. Yet, we still do not know what causes the disease and what are the best ways to treat it.
“Although our work has focused only on cells in culture, they could help us understand how early changes in gene expression alter brain development in people with autistic disorder,” says the professor, Salk Rusty Gage, director of the study and president of the Salk Institute. “We hope this work will open new avenues for studying neuropsychiatric and neurodevelopmental disorders,” he adds.
More complex branches
For example, Salk’s team observed that the genetic program associated with the stage of neural stem cells was activated earlier in the cells of autistic people. In addition, neurons that developed in people with this disorder developed more rapidly and had more complex limbs than those in the control group.
“It is currently believed that abnormalities of early brain development lead to autism, but the transition from a normal developing brain to an autistic brain remains unclear,” the trial says. “One of the major challenges in this area has been to identify critical periods of development and associated cellular states, which could serve as a basis for the discovery of the common pathological features that emerge during the development of autistic disorders.”
US authorities have just reported a sharp rise in autism cases in the United States. The current prevalence of the disease is 1.68% among 8-year-olds, which is 14% higher than the rate reported in 2012 and 2010.
According to the WHO International Classification of Diseases (ICD 10), autism is a pervasive developmental disorder that affects brain function. It is no longer considered a psychological condition or a psychiatric illness.