People with autism are less likely to be physically active and more likely to be sedentary. A number of studies have looked into different physical activities, both group based and individually, on improvements in health as well as core features of autism, and most have had positive results. New animal model research demonstrates a benefit of exercise using the maternal immune activation model of ASD, pruning back the excess of connections and cell fibers. As people with autism also have too many connections in the brain, this may have a direct therapeutic benefit. But besides all the scientific conjecture, we all need more exercise, physical activity interventions seem to only help, not hurt, people across the spectrum, and should be used to complement, not replace existing therapies. Listen to the podcast here.
This week’s podcast includes a summary of the new study, this time in an animal model, looking at microbiome transplantation. Because this was more of an experimental model, the researchers could be more rigorous in their design and look at things like behavior, brain activity, and specific biological pathways. While a mouse does not have autism, transplantation of the autism microbiome resulted in autistic-like behaviors. Second, a hopeful message of the value of participating in research on outcomes – those infants that were tracked prospectively showed improved outcomes later on, suggesting that all of the extra attention they get leads to a reduction in symptoms and an improvement in adaptive behavior. Even if you do not have a family history of autism – participate in research. It’s good for your child, and it’s good for other people’s children. Listen to the podcast here.
Females with autism are different than males with autism in a lot of ways. This week, researchers used twins to examine the differences between males and females with autism in their brain structure and how it’s associated with autism traits, not a diagnosis. To do this, researchers in Sweden turned to twins. As it turns out, females have more of a diversity of differences in brain changes compared to boys, supporting the female protective effect. But how to females with autism feel? As them! A group in the UK interviewed over 20 women on the spectrum or their parents to find out what concerns them most and what they find most challenging. Listen to the podcast here.
There is demonstrated genetic overlap between many neurodevelopment disorders including ASD, ADHD, and schizophrenia, and now there is data showing similarities in the structure and size of the brains in people with autism and those with ADHD. These differences depend on how severe social difficulties are, but the similarities are seen with ASD and ADHD, but not OCD. In addition, this week there are new depressing results from the Interactive Autism Network on unemployment and females with ASD. The results may not surprise you, but they will upset you. Listen to the podcast here.
Twins with autism, where either one or both is diagnosed, is crucial to understand the role of genetics and the environment to both autism diagnoses and now, autism traits. In a study this week, researchers using data from the California Twins Study examined the genetic and environmental influences of brain development in multiple regions and measures. While estimates of genetic and environmental influences can only be modeled in twins, they can be experimentally tested in animal models. Researchers at the University of Washington investigate what causes the link between air pollution in humans and autism by studying diesel fuel exhaust in pregnant mice. Finally, across all of these disparate animal studies – does anything pull them together. Are these models all one-offs or do they have anything in common? It turns out disruption in normal brain activity is one thing that they have in common, and something that is at the common core of ASD neurobiology. Listen to the podcast here.
What do Princess Kate and Amy Schumer have in common, and what does it have to do with autism? The answer: Hyperemesis Gravidum. It’s linked to autism, but not strongly, but it does show more evidence of significant overlap between many neuropsychiatric issues and disorders.
More importantly though, those with low verbal ability and low cognitive function are harder to study than most people with autism. Two new research studies documented what they had to do to make studies in this population possible, and how this group was different from those with average IQ and some words. One looked at brain structure, and the other was a treatment for minimally verbal girls with autism. Listen to the podcast here.
Dr. Inna Fishman from San Diego State University explains how findings from brain tissue helps scientists interpret data which studies how brain regions connect to each other and why this is important for understanding autism subgroups. Also, researchers from the Karolinska Institutet examine ADHD diagnosed in adults, and find it is similar to autism. Listen to the podcast here.
This week, Dr. Mark Shen from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill explains new findings looking at the fluid around the brain. It’s now seen in families even without a family history of ASD, the finding has now been seen in different independent studies, including those at the UC Davis MIND Institute in California, it might be a diagnostic biomarker of ASD, and it also might help explain sleep problems. Hear more on this week’s podcast.
On this week’s ASF podcast, regression—what is it and who can see it? Using the right tools, both parents and clinicians can see that many more children with autism than thought show regression, a gradual decline or loss of skills starting at around 12 months of age and showing continual declines until 36 months of age. In 2016, a National Institutes of Health (NIH) committee concluded that regression is due to biological events that disrupt the formation of specific brain circuits at critical times in development.
In a new blog post, ASF CSO Alycia Halladay explains the newest research in understanding the brains of people with autism.
In order to ensure that researchers have enough brain tissue to understand autism spectrum disorders, the education and outreach campaign of the Autism BrainNet is being expanded past families to doctors and professionals that have access to tissue. One of these groups is neuropathologists. At their annual meeting this past week in Los Angeles, an entire afternoon was spent dedicated to autism and the features of autism in the brain. A summary of the presentations is included in this podcast. Speakers emphasized that the way the brain works in childhood is not the same as the way it works in adulthood, and a study out of UCSD showed that the genes that are affected in children with autism are different than those in adults with autism. The mechanisms of genes controlling the developing brain vs. those which affect ongoing maintenance are different. This calls to make sure scientists understand all ages of people with autism, because as the brain changes, so do the needs of people with ASD.