Dr. Henry Paul, MD

Psychiatrist, Author and Educator


September 3rd, 2014

Study Finds That Brains with Autism Fail to Trim Synapses as They Develop — Now a new study suggests that in children with autism, something in the process goes awry, leaving an oversupply of synapses in at least some parts of the brain.

The finding provides clues to how autism develops from childhood on, and may help explain some symptoms like oversensitivity to noise or social experiences, as well as why many people with autism also have epileptic seizures.

It could also help scientists in the search for treatments, if they can develop safe therapies to fix the system the brain uses to clear extra synapses.  The New York Times

This is a very interesting article showing some of the latest research on Autism. The study, recently published in the journal Neuron, involved tissue from the brains of children and adolescents who had died from ages 2 to 20. About half had autism; the others did not.

The study suggests that children with autism have an oversupply of synapses in some parts of their brain. These synapses are normally “pruned” during childhood and adolescent development so different areas of the brain can develop specific functions without an overload of stimuli. When that pruning does not happen, and there is a continued overload of the synapses, the research suggests that this might be the cause of autism. If safe therapies can be developed to clear these synapses, there might be new hope for treating autism.

What I find interesting about this study is that there has been an ongoing debate in the medical community for years as to whether autism is a problem of too little, too much or a combination of connectivity in the brain.

In the NY Times article, Ralph-Axel Müller, a neuroscientist at San Diego State University, said, “Impairments that we see in autism seem to be partly due to different parts of the brain talking too much to each other. You need to lose connections in order to develop a fine-tuned system of brain networks, because if all parts of the brain talk to all parts of the brain, all you get is noise.”

The research is very interesting. What needs much further study is rapamycin, a drug that has serious side effects, and which is being discussed as a form of therapy for this neurological finding. Finding the cause is the beginning of finding a cure. Best not to jump too quickly looking for a silver-bullet cure, however. Let’s all follow the research.  I am sure this will open up a much wider debate on the cause of autism and how to treat it.  Stay tuned!

Information contained in this blog is intended for educational purposes only. It is not intended as medical or psychiatric advice for individual conditions or treatment and does not substitute for a medical or psychiatric examination. A psychiatrist must make a determination about any treatment or prescription. Dr. Paul does not assume any responsibility or risk for the use of any information contained within this blog.

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