Study Finds That Brains with Autism Fail to Trim Synapses as They Develop

There have been studies conducted by scientists in Columbia University that shows potential in a treatment for Autism. The first study focuses on the relationship of the amount of synapses and what causes the brain to hold onto them instead of getting rid of them. The process responsible for clearing synapses and old cells is autophagy.

Synapses are necessary to deliver information over to other neurons by connecting them and releasing neurotransmitters in the current of a nerve impulse. There are gaps between the synapses where neurotransmitters attach to sodium receptors, triggering them to open and letting in sodium ions that surround the outside. This then moves the information to the other cell. The neurotransmitters are eventually broken up by enzymes near the sodium receptors and it ends the process.

The differences in amount of synapses in the brain of autistic adults and the comparison of adults without autism is obvious. Although in children of both groups, numbers don’t contrast as greatly. Proving that autophagy was prevented or something along the way couldn’t trigger a cleanup of cells. For their second study, scientists raised mice with a rare genetic disease that triggered autism. Under those conditions, they found a protein called “mTOR” that inhibited autophagy; so too many synapses can probably overstimulate the brain. That explains why most autistic people have epileptic episodes. The problem remains when old, damaged synapses are left to accumulate.

During the course of the second study by Columbia University, scientists used Rapamycin. An immunosuppressant also known as Sirolimus usually given after a kidney transplant. It slowed down mTOR and allowed synaptic pruning to occur. This drug holds the promise of a cure, but Sirolimus is not the cure itself. The side effects may actually affect the individual more and outweigh the benefits in certain cases. Side effects include trouble breathing, chest pains, blistering, confusion, coughing up blood or mucus, uneven heartbeat, and fainting.

So far the research in Columbia advanced the understanding of autism and unlocked possible future solutions.

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