Research just released shows that scientists are finding new tools to help understand neurodevelopmental disorders like autism and fragile X syndrome. These studies show in new detail how the brain's connections, chemicals, and genes interact to affect behavior. The research findings were presented at Neuroscience 2011, the Society for Neuroscience's annual meeting and the world's largest source of emerging news about brain science health.
Neurodevelopmental disorders like autism-spectrum disorders and fragile X syndrome are often diagnosed as the brain is developing and a child's difficulty communicating and interacting with others is perceptible. One in every 110 children is diagnosed with an autism-spectrum disorder.
The new findings show that:
- Children with bipolar disorder look at facial features other than the eyes when determining facial expressions. The findings may explain why they have difficulty identifying emotions, like children with autism (Pilyoung Kim, PhD, abstract 299.10).
- An enzyme called STEP is elevated in a mouse study of fragile X syndrome. Removing that protein makes the mice more social, suggesting a new therapeutic target (Susan Goebel-Goody, PhD, abstract 238.02).
- The gene that causes fragile X syndrome is associated with brain structure and working memory in healthy men, a finding that may explain why its loss causes disease (Susan Rivera, PhD, abstract 645.08).
- Animal studies explore synaptic and behavioral abnormalities related to a candidate gene for autism and the autism-related disorder Phelan-McDermid Syndrome (Joseph Buxbaum, PhD).