Autism Science

Attention to Eyes is Present but in Decline in 2–6-Month-old Infants Later Diagnosed with Autism

Source: 
Natue
Date Published: 
November 6, 2013
Abstract: 

Today, in a publication in Nature, scientists show that it is possible to identify markers of autism in the first 6 months of life, much before children begin to show symptoms. In this study, these markers predicted both diagnosis and level of disability 2 1Ž2 years later when the children were evaluated by expert clinicians. The scientists used eye-tracking technology to measure the way babies visually engage with others. If these results are replicated in larger samples, these procedures might in the future empower primary care physicians to screen for autism as part of routine well-baby check ups. Equal energy and resources will then have to be invested in improving access to early treatment so that children are afforded the opportunity to fulfill their full potential.

Click here for the full article from Nature.

Click here for the New York Times article, Baby's Gaze May Signal Autism, a Study Finds

 

Earliest marker for autism found in young infants

NIH-funded study finds attention to others' eyes declines in 2 to 6-month-old infants later diagnosed with autism

Eye contact during early infancy may be a key to early identification of autism, according to a study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), part of the National Institutes of Health. Published this week in the journal Nature, the study reveals the earliest sign of developing autism ever observed—a steady decline in attention to others' eyes within the first two to six months of life.

"Autism isn't usually diagnosed until after age 2, when delays in a child's social behavior and language skills become apparent. This study shows that children exhibit clear signs of autism at a much younger age," said Thomas R. Insel, M.D., director of NIMH. "The sooner we are able to identify early markers for autism, the more effective our treatment interventions can be."

Typically developing children begin to focus on human faces within the first few hours of life, and they learn to pick up social cues by paying special attention to other people's eyes. Children with autism, however, do not exhibit this sort of interest in eye-looking. In fact, a lack of eye contact is one of the diagnostic features of the disorder.

To find out how this deficit in eye-looking emerges in children with autism, Warren Jones, Ph.D., and Ami Klin, Ph.D., of the Marcus Autism Center, Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, and Emory University School of Medicine followed infants from birth to age 3. The infants were divided into two groups, based on their risk for developing an autism spectrum disorder. Those in the high risk group had an older sibling already diagnosed with autism; those in the low risk group did not.

Jones and Klin used eye-tracking equipment to measure each child's eye movements as they watched video scenes of a caregiver. The researchers calculated the percentage of time each child fixated on the caregiver's eyes, mouth, and body, as well as the non-human spaces in the images. Children were tested at 10 different times between 2 and 24 months of age.

By age 3, some of the children—nearly all from the high risk group—had received a clinical diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder. The researchers then reviewed the eye-tracking data to determine what factors differed between those children who received an autism diagnosis and those who did not.

"In infants later diagnosed with autism, we see a steady decline in how much they look at mom's eyes," said Jones. This drop in eye-looking began between two and six months and continued throughout the course of the study. By 24 months, the children later diagnosed with autism focused on the caregiver's eyes only about half as long as did their typically developing counterparts.

This decline in attention to others' eyes was somewhat surprising to the researchers. In opposition to a long-standing theory in the field—that social behaviors are entirely absent in children with autism—these results suggest that social engagement skills are intact shortly after birth in children with autism. If clinicians can identify this sort of marker for autism in a young infant, interventions may be better able to keep the child's social development on track.

"This insight, the preservation of some early eye-looking, is important," explained Jones. "In the future, if we were able to use similar technologies to identify early signs of social disability, we could then consider interventions to build on that early eye-looking and help reduce some of the associated disabilities that often accompany autism."

The next step for Jones and Klin is to translate this finding into a viable tool for use in the clinic. With support from the NIH Autism Centers of Excellence program, the research team has already started to extend this research by enrolling many more babies and their families into related long-term studies. They also plan to examine additional markers for autism in infancy in order to give clinicians more tools for the early identification and treatment of autism.

 

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Reference: Jones W, Klin A. Attention to eyes is present but in decline in 2-6-month-old infants later diagnosed with autism. Nature, Nov. 6, 2013.

Grant: R01MH083727

About the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH): The mission of the NIMH is to transform the understanding and treatment of mental illnesses through basic and clinical research, paving the way for prevention, recovery, and care. For more information, visit http://www.nimh.nih.gov.

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit http://www.nih.gov.

 

Genetic Link Between Family Members with Autism and Language Impairment

Source: 
American Journal of Psychiatry
Date Published: 
October 30, 2013
Abstract: 

New research shows a genetic link between individuals with autism and family members with specific speech and language difficulties otherwise unexplained by cognitive or physical problems. Researchers discovered that genes in a small region of two chromosomes can lead to one family member developing autism and another family member only developing language impairment.

Spinning System Turns Stem Cells Into Mini-Brains

Source: 
Simons Foundation Autism Research Institute
Date Published: 
October 30, 2013
Abstract: 

Researchers have coaxed human stem cells to develop into simplified mini-brains, with regions resembling discrete brain structures, reported in the journal Nature. A spinning culture system prods stem cells to develop into neurons in three dimensions. The culture system is a gelatinous protein-rich mixture that provides both the structural support and nutrients required for neuronal development. Already, the researchers have shown that these artificial brains may model human disorders better than real mouse brains do.

Maternal Prenatal Weight Gain and Autism Spectrum Disorders

Source: 
Pediatrics
Date Published: 
October 28, 2013
Abstract: 

New research from the University of Utah and published in the journal Pediatrics has uncovered an association between autism spectrum disorders and a small increase in the amount of weight a mother gains during pregnancy. These findings suggest that weight gain during pregnancy is not the cause of ASD but rather may reflect an underlying process that it shares with autism spectrum disorders, such as abnormal hormone levels or inflammation.

Researchers Can Now Track Multiple Mice Simultaneously

Source: 
Simons Foundation Autism Research Institute
Date Published: 
October 16, 2013
Abstract: 

Researchers have developed software that can automatically track and catalog the behavior of up to four mice at once. Mice are often used for autism research because they are easy to manipulate genetically. This new method, which involves using images taken by a heat-sensing camera and a new software algorithm, makes collecting research more efficient.

Study Ties Growth Factor to Autism

Source: 
Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative
Date Published: 
October 22, 2013
Abstract: 

Mutations in the autism-linked protein NHE6 may block the development of neuronal junctions by interfering with a growth factor called BDNF, according to a study published in the journal Neuron. The results suggest that drugs that enhance BDNF signaling could treat some forms of autism, the researchers say.

Kids with Autism are Often on Many Medications at Once

Source: 
Pediatrics
Date Published: 
October 21, 2013
Abstract: 

According to a new study in the journal Pediatrics, kids with autism are often prescribed mood altering drugs, sometimes many at one time and for extended periods of time. These drugs include antipsychotics, antidepressants, and anti-anxiety medications. The study states that this practice occurs despite minimal evidence of the effectiveness or appropriateness of multidrug treatment of ASD.

Babies Born to Women with Diabetes may be at Higher Risk for Autism

Source: 
Simons Foundation Autism Research Institute
Date Published: 
October 15, 2013
Abstract: 

Babies born to women with gestational diabetes tend to be large and go through spells of low blood sugar within their first few days of life. They may also be at an increased risk for autism, reports a study published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. The study also found that the risk extends to children born to women who had diabetes prior to pregnancy.

Autism and Epilepsy Cases Share Mutations

Source: 
Simons Foundation Autism Research Institute
Date Published: 
October 15, 2013
Abstract: 

About one-third of people with autism suffer from epilepsy. This overlap suggests that the two disorders may have a common origin — a theory borne out by examples of shared genetics. Mutations in GABRB3, a brain receptor linked to autism, are prevalent in severe childhood epilepsy, according to a study published in Nature. The study also found that many of the spontaneous mutations found in children with epilepsy overlap with those linked to autism and fragile X syndrome.

Autism Science Foundation Marks 5th Anniversary with a Day of Learning and Evening of Celebration

Date Published: 
October 22, 2013

 

Contact: Casey Gold                                                                                      For Immediate Release
Email: cgold@autismsciencefoundation.org                                                                October 22, 2013

AUTISM SCIENCE FOUNDATION MARKS 5TH ANNIVERSARY
with a DAY OF LEARNING & EVENING OF CELEBRATION

Day of Learning will feature the Autism Community’s First
TED-Style Scientific Conference

 

(October 21, 2013—New York, NY)  Today the Autism Science Foundation announced plans to celebrate the organization’s fifth anniversary with a full day of events at the Yale Club of New York City on April 10, 2014.

On the afternoon of April 10, ASF will host a festive luncheon, followed by the autism community’s first TED-style conference, featuring talks from NIMH Director Dr. Thomas Insel, Dr. David Amaral, Dr. Joseph Buxbaum, Dr. David Mandell, Dr. Paul Offit, Dr. Matt State, and other prominent scientists, as well as individuals with autism, including Paul Morris, an adult on the autism spectrum. These TED-style talks will be thoughtful, 15-minute distillations of critical issues in autism.  “This event, geared toward all stakeholders, will be our gift back to the autism community,” said Alison Singer, president of the Autism Science Foundation. “Our speakers will focus on the real issues facing families, such as gender differences in diagnosis and treatment, the value of genetics testing, the effectiveness of school-based interventions, and the challenges of finding meaningful employment.”  

The highlight of ASF’s anniversary celebration will be its Fifth Anniversary Gala in the evening of April 10, during which the foundation will honor two leaders in autism science: Dr. Gerald Fischbach, Chief Science Officer of the Simons Foundation, and Dr. Paul Offit, Chief of Infectious Diseases at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and author of Autism’s False Prophets.  Dr. Richard Besser, Chief Medical Correspondent for ABC News, will serve as emcee for the evening, which will feature a cocktail reception and dinner, as well as a silent auction and entertainment by teens and adults with autism, including singer Izzie Piwnicki and pianist Josh Frelich.

Proceeds from the day’s events will benefit ASF’s pre- and postdoctoral fellowship programs, which support early career research conducted by the nation’s most promising young autism scientists. For more information about the event, click here

Registration is now available! To become a sponsor, to register, or to join the benefit committee, please click here.
Availablity is limited, so register today!
 
With any questions, please contact Casey Gold at 212-391-3913 or cgold@AutismScienceFoundation.org.

 

The Autism Science Foundation (ASF) is a 501(c)(3) public charity. Its mission is to support autism research by providing funding to scientists and organizations conducting autism research. ASF also provides information about autism to the general public and serves to increase awareness of autism spectrum disorders and the needs of individuals and families affected by autism.

To learn more about the Autism Science Foundation’s programs visit www.autismsciencefoundation.org