Monday, January 21, 2008

Summary of Research

This article by in Ashley Pettus Harvard Magazine provides a nice overview of research on possible causes of autism spectrum disorders. This sounds intriguing:
"The researchers are paying particular attention to networks of genetic activity that affect 12 genes already known to play a role in autism. These are genes that regulate the brain’s response to environmental stimuli, affecting learning and memory by regulating the plasticity of connections between neurons. Here, the work of Michael Greenberg, professor of neurology and neuroscience and director of neurobiology at Children’s Hospital, has been critical. Greenberg looks at animals to examine how experience shapes the formation and refinement of synapses during brain development. He believes that autism-spectrum disorders may result from flaws in synapse development that affect the brain’s ability to process incoming signals. During the first years of postnatal development, trillions of synapses form in the brain as a child interacts with his or her surroundings; many synapses that aren’t needed naturally fall away, while others are strengthened. One possibility, Greenberg suggests, is that this pruning process doesn’t happen effectively in people with autism."

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