How does the brain develop in individuals with autism?

Geneticists at Heidelberg University Hospital’s Department of Molecular Human Genetics have used a new mouse model to demonstrate the way a certain genetic mutation is linked to a type of autism in humans and affects brain development and behavior. In the brain of genetically altered mice, the protein FOXP1 is not synthesized, which is also the case for individuals with a certain form of autism. Consequently, after birth the brain structures degenerate that play a key role in perception. The mice also exhibited abnormal behavior that is typical of autism.

Humans’ Big Brains Might Be Due in Part to Newly Identified Protein

A protein that may partly explain why human brains are larger than those of other animals has been identified by scientists from two stem-cell labs at UC San Francisco, in research published in the November 13, 2014 issue of Nature.

Key experiments by the UCSF researchers revealed that the protein, called PDGFD, is made in growing brains of humans, but not in mice, and appears necessary for normal proliferation of human brain stem cells growing in a lab dish.

Penn Team Links Placental Marker of Prenatal Stress to Neurodevelopmental Problems

New findings by University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine scientists suggest that an enzyme found in the placenta is likely playing an important role. This enzyme, O-linked-N-acetylglucosamine transferase, or OGT, translates maternal stress into a reprogramming signal for the brain before birth. “By manipulating this one gene, we were able to recapitulate many aspects of early prenatal stress,” said Tracy L. Bale, senior author on the paper and a professor in the Department of Animal Biology at Penn Vet. “OGT seems to be serving a role as the ‘canary in the coal mine,’ offering a readout of mom’s stress to change the baby’s developing brain.”

Risk of brain injury is genetic

University researchers have identified a link between injury to the developing brain and common variation in genes associated with schizophrenia and the metabolism of fat. The study builds on previous research, which has shown that being born prematurely - before 37 weeks - is a leading cause of learning and behavioural difficulties in childhood.

Males and females differ in specific brain structures

The sex differences in the limbic system include areas often implicated in psychiatric conditions with biased sex ratios such as autism, schizophrenia, and depression. This new study may therefore help understand not just typical sex differences but also sex-linked psychiatric conditions.

Autism, mercury, and politics

By Robert Kennedy Jr.

MOUNTING EVIDENCE suggests that Thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative in children's vaccines, may be responsible for the exponential growth of autism, attention deficit disorder, speech delays, and other childhood neurological disorders now epidemic in the United States.