Friday, November 05, 2010
Genes, autism and neural connections
Scientists at the Scripps Translational Science Institute in San Diego have been using cutting-edge neuroscience to look into the links between genetics and autism. They used MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) brain scans to study 32 children who had a variation in a gene called CNTNAP2 which is associated with an increased risk of autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Tourette's syndrome and schizophrenia. Half of the children had been diagnosed with autism while half were unaffected. The researchers used the MRI scans to see what was going on in the children's brains while they carried out a language-learning task. Compared to children without the variation in the gene the children with it had a superfluity of connections in their prefrontal cortices and a lack of connections between the prefrontal cortex and the left side of the brain, which is connected with language.