Study Shows Environmental Influences May Cause Autism in Some Cases

Media reports on the causes of ASD have focused on the fact that older fathers (40 and over) are more likely than younger fathers to have children with an ASD, probably because of gene mutations that accumulate over the years in sperm-making cells. Yet older mothers (35 and over) face a similar risk that is entirely independent of their partners' age. But for older mothers, scientists know very little about why this risk exists. The Einstein researchers looked for genetic as well as environmental influences that might account for older mothers' increased risk for having children with ASD.

Mice with “Mohawks” Help Scientists Link Autism to Two Biological Pathways in Brain

“Aha” moments are rare in medical research, scientists say. As rare, they add, as finding mice with Mohawk-like hairstyles.

But both events happened in a lab at NYU Langone Medical Center, months after an international team of neuroscientists bred hundreds of mice with a suspect genetic mutation tied to autism spectrum disorders.

Almost all the grown mice, the NYU Langone team observed, had sideways,“overgroomed” hair with a highly stylized center hairline between their ears and hardly a tuft elsewhere. Mice typically groom each other’s hair.

Screening for Autism: There's an App for That

Researchers at Duke University have developed software that tracks and records infants’ activity during videotaped autism screening tests. Their results show that the program is as good at spotting behavioral markers of autism as experts giving the test themselves, and better than non-expert medical clinicians and students in training.

Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Researchers Find Association Between SSRI Use During Pregnancy and Autism and Developmental Delays in Boys

In a study of nearly 1,000 mother-child pairs, researchers from the Bloomberg School of Public health found that prenatal exposure to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), a frequently prescribed treatment for depression, anxiety and other disorders, was associated with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and developmental delays (DD) in boys.

Parental obesity and autism risk in the child

“We were very surprised by these findings because we expected that maternal obesity would be the main risk factor for the development of ASD. It means that we have had too much focus on the mother and too little on the father. This probably reflects the fact that we have given greater focus to conditions in pregnancy, such as the growth environment for the foetus in the womb than both environmental and genetic factors before conception,” says Surén.

New clue to autism found inside brain cells

The findings add a significant new dimension to basic brain cell function. Scientists have long assumed that brain cell receptors are only active on the surface of cells. The new study shows that receptors can be active inside cells, and their effects can be considerably different from the same receptors located on the cell surface.