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When you listen to music, multiple areas of your brain become engaged and active. But when you actually play an instrument, that activity becomes more like a full-body brain workout. What’s going on? Anita Collins explains the fireworks that go off in musicians’ brains when they play, and examines some of the long-term positive effects of this mental workout.

A new study provides the most definitive characterization of the autism-like intellectual disability disorder Christianson syndrome and provides the first diagnostic criteria to help doctors and families identify and understand the condition. Initial evidence suggests CS could affect tens of thousands of boys worldwide.

Because the severe autism-like condition Christianson syndrome was first reported only in 1999 and some symptoms take more than a decade to appear, families and doctors urgently need fundamental information about it. A new study that doubles the number of cases now documented in the scientific literature provides the most definitive characterization of CS to date. The authors of the study propose the first diagnostic criteria for the condition. “We’re hoping that clinicians will use these criteria and that there will be more awareness among clinicians and the community about Christianson syndrome,” said Dr. Eric Morrow, assistant professor of biology and psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University and senior author of the study in press in Annals of Neurology. “We’re also hoping this study will impart an opportunity for families to predict what to expect for their child and what’s a part of the syndrome.”

Roles of heritability, mutations, environment estimated – NIH-funded study

Most of the genetic risk for autism comes from versions of genes that are common in the population rather than from rare variants or spontaneous glitches, researchers funded by the National Institutes of Health have found. Heritability also outweighed other risk factors in this largest study of its kind to date. About 52 percent of the risk for autism was traced to common and rare inherited variation, with spontaneous mutations contributing a modest 2.6 percent of the total risk. “Genetic variation likely accounts for roughly 60 percent of the liability for autism, with common variants comprising the bulk of its genetic architecture,” explained Joseph Buxbaum, Ph.D., of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai (ISMMS), New York City. “Although each exerts just a tiny effect individually, these common variations in the genetic code add up to substantial impact, taken together.”
Posted by Salk Institute

New results ease previous concerns that gene-editing techniques—used to develop therapies for genetic diseases—could add unwanted mutations to stem cells.

The ability to switch out one gene for another in a line of living stem cells has only crossed from science fiction to reality within this decade. As with any new technology, it brings with it both promise—the hope of fixing disease-causing genes in humans, for example—as well as questions and safety concerns. Now, Salk scientists have put one of those concerns to rest: using gene-editing techniques on stem cells doesn't increase the overall occurrence of mutations in the cells. "As cells are being reprogrammed into stem cells, they tend to accumulate many mutations," says Mo Li, a postdoctoral fellow in Belmonte's lab and an author of the new paper. "So people naturally worry that any process you perform with these cells in vitro—including gene editing—might generate even more mutations."

New research also suggests common antibiotic might help treat the genetic defect

Researchers from UC Davis School of Medicine and Shriners Hospitals for Children – Northern California have identified a group of cells in the brain that they say plays an important role in the abnormal neuron development in Down syndrome. After developing a new model for studying the syndrome using patient-derived stem cells, the scientists also found that applying an inexpensive antibiotic to the cells appears to correct many abnormalities in the interaction between the cells and developing neurons. “We have developed a human cellular model for studying brain development in Down syndrome that allows us to carry out detailed physiological studies and screen possible new therapies,” said Wenbin Deng, associate professor of biochemistry and molecular medicine and principal investigator of the study. “This model is more realistic than traditional animal models because it is derived from a patient’s own cells.”