Friday, August 29, 2014
Kids With Autism Have Extra Brain Connections, Study Says
The scientists also believe it might be possible to reduce the number of extra synapses through drug treatment.
Synapses are the points in the brain where brains cells (neurons) connect and communicate with each other. Having excess synapses may have a major impact on how the brain functions, theorized neuroscientists at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City.
“It’s the first time that anyone has looked for, and seen, a lack of pruning during development of children with autism, although lower numbers of synapses in some brain areas have been detected in brains from older patients and in mice with autistic-like behaviors,” study senior investigator, David Sulzer, a professor of neurobiology, said in a Columbia news release.
His team also found that rapamycin, an immunosuppressant that helps prevent rejection in organ transplants and coats some coronary stents, can restore normal synaptic pruning and improve autistic-like behaviors in mice. The effect was seen even when the drug was given to the mice after they developed those behaviors.
The drug causes side effects that might prevent its use in people with autism, the researchers said. However, “the fact that we can see changes in behavior suggests that autism may still be treatable after a child is diagnosed, if we can find a better drug.” Sulzer added.
For the study, he and his colleagues examined 26 brains of youngsters with autism. All of the children had died from causes other that autism. Their brains were compared to 22 brains of children without autism.
The researchers measured “synapse density” in a small section of tissue in each brain. By late childhood, synapse density fell by about half in the brains of children without autism, but fell only 16 percent in the brains of those with autism.
Pruning of the brain occurs in children as they begin to mature. It is most pronounced in adolescence as we move from the joy of being a child to the responsibilities of adulthood. It is an accurate term, much like pruning a tree defines its shape and future development, similar outcomes result from pruning of the brain. It is not a loss of neurons but a reduction in the thickness as some of the synapses (connections) are lost.
Pruning is physical and physiological. In QA (Quintessential Applications), we test for a phenomenon known as “switching”. Switching is a physiological effect of excess synaptic communication between the two halves of the brain. It is most often caused by imbalance in the immune system, so I am not surprised that immune suppressant drugs increase pruning. It can also be caused by chemical imbalance of the brain, even emotional turmoil.
I do not think we want to enhance pruning of the brain to make kids more “normal”. I believe that reduced pruning may be an evolutionary step toward using more of our brain. Many children with autisms (autistic patterns), have savant-like abilities in math or technical skills. They very well may be our future. Their lack of acceptable social skills leads us to want to make them conform to patterns that we find acceptable. This is why one in thirteen children in our schools is drugged, so they conform.
THE BOTTOM LINE:
Pruning is a natural process, one we should not accelerate with immune suppressant drugs. Technology is changing the world and humans are changing as well.
Source: NIH (National Institutes of Health) –Thursday, August 21, 2014