Toddlers

Researchers at Children's Hospital Boston Identify Brain Activity Patterns Specific to Children with Autism

Source: 
Time
Date Published: 
June 26, 2012
Abstract: 

Study from Children's Hospital Boston uses EEG to identify specific brain activity patterns in children with autism.

Vanderbilt University Study Measures Attention to Changing Facial Features in High-Risk Infants

Source: 
Autism Research
Date Published: 
June 1, 2012
Abstract: 

Study from Vanderbilt University uses eye-tracking and visual event-related potentials to measure attention to changing facial features in infants at high-risk for developing autism.

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.

Minority Toddlers With Autism May Be More Delayed Than Affected Caucasian Peers

Source: 
Medical News Today
Date Published: 
February 23, 2012
Abstract: 

The first prospective study of ethnic differences in the symptoms of autism in toddlers shows that children from a minority background have more delayed language, communication and gross motor skills than Caucasian children with the disorder. Researchers at the Kennedy Krieger Institute concluded that subtle developmental delays may be going unaddressed in minority toddlers until more severe symptoms develop.

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.

Distinct features of autistic brain revealed in novel Stanford/Packard analysis of MRI scans

Source: 
Stanford University
Date Published: 
September 2, 2011
Abstract: 

Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital have used a novel method for analyzing brain-scan data to distinguish children with autism from typically developing children. Their discovery reveals that the gray matter in a network of brain regions known to affect social communication and self-related thoughts has a distinct organization in people with autism.

Catching Autism Symptoms Early to Enable Effective Preventative Interventions Through Play

Source: 
Medical News Today
Date Published: 
March 23, 2011
Abstract: 

Toddlers who played with a limited number of toys showed more improvement in their communication skills following parent-guided treatment than those receiving other community-based treatments.

New Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised Algorithms for Toddlers and Young Preschoolers from 12 to 47 Months of Age

Source: 
J Autism Developmental Disorders, Kim et al.
Date Published: 
March 2011
Year Published: 
2011

The Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised is a tool clinician’s use for the diagnosis of a child with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The diagnostic algorithms of the evaluative tool were altered to improve sensitivity and specificity compared to the previous algorithm.

Preference for Geometric Patterns Early in Life as a Risk Factor for Autism

Source: 
Archives of General Psychiatry, Pierce et al.
Date Published: 
January 2011
Year Published: 
2011

Researchers from the University of California, San Diego found that a preference for geometric patterns early in life may be a novel and easily detectable early signature of infants and toddlers at risk for autism. One hundred ten toddlers were presented with a  one-minute movie depicting moving geometric patterns on one side of a video monitor and children in high actions, such as dancing or doing yoga, on the other. Using this preferential looking paradigm, researchers measured total fixation duration and the number of fast eye movements within each movie type was examined using eye-tracking technology. Overall, toddlers with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) as young as 14 months spent significantly more time fixating on dynamic geometric images than other diagnostic groups. If a toddler spent more than 69% of his or her time fixating on geometric patterns, then the positive predictive value for accurately classifying that toddler as having an ASD was 100%. The preference for geometric patterns among children with ASDs can be used as an early risk factor for autism, which can aid in early identification efforts.