Early Intervention

IACC Releases Its 2011 Summary of Advances in Autism Spectrum Disorder Research

Source: 
IACC
Date Published: 
April 2, 2012
Abstract: 

On April 2, in honor of the fifth annual World Autism Awareness Day and HHS Autism Awareness Month the IACC has released its annual list of scientific advances that represent significant progress in the field.

Prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorders — Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, 14 Sites, United States, 2008

Source: 
MMWR (CDC)
Date Published: 
March 29, 2012
Abstract: 

Full text of today's CDC report indicating 1 in 88 children is now diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.

Newly Published Genetics/Brain Tissue Study Will Help Refine the Search for Specific Early Genetic Markers of Risk of Autism in Babies and Toddlers

Source: 
PLoS Genetics
Date Published: 
March 22, 2012
Year Published: 
2012
Abstract: 

A new study of autism published today in PLoS Genetics has discovered abnormal gene activity and gene deletions in the same brain region that also has a 67% overabundance of brain cells. This region – the prefrontal cortex—is involved in social, emotional, communication and language skills. The finding brings new understanding of what early genetic abnormalities lead to excess brain cells and to the abnormal brain wiring that cause core symptoms in autism. Importantly, the study also shows that gene activity abnormalities in autism change across the lifespan.

By Dr. Eric Courchesne

A new study of autism published today in PLoS Genetics (Age Dependent Brain Gene Expression and Copy Number Anomalies in Autism Suggest Distinct Pathological Processes at Young Versus Mature Ages) has discovered abnormal gene activity and gene deletions in the same brain region that also has a 67% overabundance of brain cells.  This region – the prefrontal cortex—is involved in social, emotional, communication and language skills. The finding brings new understanding of what early genetic abnormalities lead to excess brain cells and to the abnormal brain wiring that cause core symptoms in autism. Importantly, the study also shows that gene activity abnormalities in autism change across the lifespan.

The research is one of the first to focus on gene activity inside the young autistic brain, and is the first to examine how gene expression activity changes across the lifespan in autism.  It is also one of the largest postmortem studies of autism to date. This close-up look inside the brain uncovered the presence of abnormal levels of activity in genes (“gene expression”) and gene defects (deletions of portions of DNA sequences) that control the number of brain cells and their growth and pattern of organization in the developing prefrontal cortex. The abnormal gene activity occurred in several networks that are important during prenatal brain development (cell cycle, neurogenesis, DNA damage detection and response, apoptosis and survival networks). This seems to rule out a number of current speculations about postnatal causes of autism and, combined with the new evidence of a 67% excess of prefrontal brain cells, points instead to prenatal causal events in a majority of cases.

The study’s direct examination of both mRNA and DNA from the same frontal cortex region in each individual is also a unique approach to discovering the genetics of abnormal brain development in autism.  The combined mRNA and DNA results indicate that a large and heterogeneous array of gene and gene expression defects disrupt prenatal processes that are critical to early prefrontal cortex formation. “Although DNA defects vary from autistic case to case, the diverse genetic deletions seem to underlie a relatively common biological theme, hitting a shared set of gene pathways that impact cell cycle, DNA damage detection and repair, migration, neural patterning and cell differentiation,” according to the study.  Importantly, the set of functional gene pathways identified by the study’s direct analyses of autistic brain tissue are consistent with those identified by previous studies that analyzed copy number variations in living autistic patients.

A second major discovery in this study is that the pattern of abnormal gene activity changes across the lifespan in autism. Thus, in adults with autism, the study found abnormal activity in genes involved in remodeling, repair, immune response and signaling. This raises opportunities for new research directions that ask whether and how such later alterations in genetic activity impact brain structure and function.  A hope is that perhaps this later, second stage of unusual genetic activity we detected in adults with autism has something to do with enhancing adaptive connections and pruning back earlier maladaptive connections.  Further research needs to better understand the impact of those later changes in genetic activity.

Findings in the new study will help refine the search for specific early genetic markers of risk of autism in babies and toddlers.  Next steps include identifying what causes the altered genetic activity at early stages of development, when nerve cells in prefrontal cortex arise and the first steps in creating brain circuitry are being taken.  Knowledge of these specific patterns of abnormal gene activity may also give rise to future studies that search for medical interventions that target abnormal gene activity in an age-specific fashion.

Autism Not Diagnosed As Early In Minority Children

Source: 
NPR
Date Published: 
February 28, 2012
Abstract: 

Early diagnosis is considered key for autism, but minority children tend to be diagnosed later than white children. Some new work is beginning to try to uncover why — and to raise awareness of the warning signs so more parents know they can seek help even for a toddler.

Training Parents Is Good Medicine for Children With Autism Behavior Problems, Study Suggests

Source: 
Science Daily
Date Published: 
February 24, 2012
Abstract: 

Children with autism spectrum disorders who also have serious behavioral problems responded better to medication combined with training for their parents than to treatment with medication alone, Yale researchers and their colleagues report in the February issue of Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

New Autism Research Reveals Brain Differences at 6 Months in Infants Who Develop Autism

Source: 
Center for Autism Research at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP)
Date Published: 
February 17, 2012
Abstract: 

A new study from the Infant Brain Imaging Network, which includes researchers at the Center for Autism Research at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), found significant differences in brain development starting at age 6 months in high-risk infants who later develop autism, compared to high-risk infants who did not develop autism.

New Report Examines Autism Needs for Patients and Families in Pennsylvania

Source: 
Health News
Date Published: 
January 28, 2012
Abstract: 

Results were released yesterday from the Pennsylvania Autism Needs Assessment, which includes feedback from 3,500 Pennsylvania caregivers and adults with autism, making it the largest study of its kind in the nation.

In the Brain, Signs of Autism as Early as 6 Months Old

Source: 
Science Daily
Date Published: 
January 30, 2012
Abstract: 

Measuring brain activity in infants as young as six months may help to predict the future development of autism symptoms.

Trained Peers Better at Aiding Autistic Kids with Social Skills

Source: 
PsychCentral
Abstract: 

A new study suggests training peers can help children with autism spectrum disorder improve their social skills, even more than a direct adult-led intervention.

Diagnosing Autism At A Younger Age Could Lead To Earlier Interventions

Source: 
Medical News Today
Date Published: 
October 16, 2011
Abstract: 

Autism is normally diagnosed between the ages of 2 and 3, but new research is finding symptoms of autism spectrum disorders in babies as young as 12 months.