According to a new study by Stanford University’s School of Medicine, some cases of autism might be due to poor communication between different brain hemispheres.
Possible Connectivity Problem Could Be Linked To Autism
Poor connectivity between the two halves of the brain could possibly be caused by a disfunction of the corpus callosum, which could be linked to some autism cases, according to a recent study. The researchers analyzed the human interactome, a vast network of interactions of proteins, in individuals with autism. They also sequenced genomes and analyzed the gene expression patterns in those studied.
Defective Neurons Might Not be Totally To Blame
The results of this study offered a possible explanation of why the size of the brain’s communications center, called the corpus callosum, is often times abnormally reduced in some people who have been diagnosed with autism.
It has long been suspected that defects in the neurons could be the potential cause or could play a major role in the cause of autism. While neurons have been the focus of most of the autism research in the past, this study highlights the oligodendrocytes as a possible contributing component.
Oligodendrocytes are responsible for coating the signaling arms of neurons with myelin, an insulating substance. This coating enables electrical signals to transmit rapidly between the neurons. It appears as though the oligodendrocytes might contribute to the defect by inhibiting proper signaling of neurons due to poor cellular operation and myelination. Both this specific cell type and this particular region of the brain that have been implicated as contributors to autism have not been previously extensively studied in relation to autism.
One Module Stands Out
The researchers utilized previously published information about proteins found in the brain to compare them to mutations found in people with autism. This allowed scientists to pinpoint a group of proteins involved in the way that nerve cells communicate. They located genes that are involved in the development and the functioning of oligodendrocytes in the corpus callosum. This supports the notion that autism could be linked to the poor connectivity between the brain hemispheres. One module, “module 13” in particular, stood out as containing a significant number of autism-associated proteins.
Researchers were able to confirm their findings by sequencing genomes of individuals with autism. Their work revealed significant mutations in a group of genes in module 13. The results of the sequencing indicated 30 genes in module 13 were mutated significantly. Of those, 28 hadn’t been previously associated with autism. And of those 28, ten had been shown to affect behavior or nervous system function in mice. The researchers concluded that focusing attention on genes in these different cell types and different regions of the brain may aid progress in advances in the cause of autism.
The Future Is Bright
Although these findings are significant, they may not necessarily lead to immediate new therapies for those with autism. But it could be helpful in finding ways to one day train or improve the connection between the brain’s hemispheres.