Researchers from the University of Haifa have shown a strong correlation between autism and quickened neuronal development in fetuses.
The discoveries provide fresh insight into the potential causes of autism and present novel therapeutic avenues.
Autism spectrum disease, a developmental impairment brought on by variations in the brain, affects an estimated 75 million people worldwide. People who are autistic usually struggle with social interaction and communication, or they engage in repetitive or limited behaviors.
They frequently learn, move, and pay attention in unique ways.
Children with autism who had genetic abnormalities as the underlying cause of their disorder were the subject of the study, which was directed by Dr. Shani Stern of the Department of Neurobiology at the University of Haifa.
The scientists discovered evidence of accelerated neuron development in embryonic neurons, which was not seen in children without autism.
Low connections and evidence of fast degeneration were also present in the neurons. “Neurons that develop at a regular rate often create protection systems for their intricate tasks, like managing potentially harmful ions and neurotransmitters.
They may have been exposed to these difficulties before having fully established suitable protection systems due to the faster development we saw in autistic children, according to Stern.
A peer-reviewed journal, Translational Psychiatry, published the team’s work earlier in July. In the past, studies studying genetically mutated autism have frequently used mouse models and concentrated on stages of neuron development after birth.
Stern’s method, on the other hand, required converting mature cells from particular individuals into induced stem cells that were later converted into neurons.
This made it possible for the researchers to monitor the growth of neurons even before birth.
The growth of cortical neurons in autistic children caused by various gene abnormalities was compared to that of their unaffected siblings, who served as the study’s control group.
Cortical neurons were chosen because it is known that they are responsible for the changes in autistic children’s brains.
All autistic infants showed increased cortical neuron development during the embryonic stage and the first few months of life, regardless of the precise genetic abnormality.
At this early stage, the neurons were already “mature,” showing action potentials, powerful electrical currents, and even developing active neural networks. The neurons in the control group, on the other hand, did not have such advanced development at the same stage.
The cortical neurons of autistic children had already started to degrade, displaying lower connectivity, even before the control group’s neurons reached the stage of creating action potentials and networks. Stern hypothesized that the subsequent degradation might be caused by the early rapid development.
“Cortical neurons carry out intricate tasks that have the potential to harm them, but during normal growth, they first build up defenses before becoming active.
The rapid growth seen in autistic children may have exposed them to stimuli before they were ready to manage them, potentially damaging the neurons.
The study also found that children with autism who had various gene alterations all experienced accelerated development followed by rapid decline. According to the research team, this suggests that this pattern may be a defining aspect of autism in general.
“The study’s findings indicate that children who later experience developmental deficits initially experience developmental acceleration. The similarity of these findings across different genetic alterations and chromosomes shows that this might be a distinguishing feature of autistic children’s brains, according to Stern.
The identification of this link between autism and rapid neural development opens up new avenues for focused interventions and potential therapies.
Stern and her team are currently concentrating on researching substances and medications that can slow down this quick development, provide protection for the growing neurons, and possibly provide new therapeutic approaches for autism.