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May
20

Science Fair: It Runs in the Genes

dna

Science Fair

An occasional column about science news pertaining to autism

Compiled by Robert B. Waltz

dna

Science Fair

An occasional column about science news pertaining to autism

Compiled by Robert B. Waltz

Hey! Listen Up!

Do you have trouble concentrating when there is music in the background, or sorting through multiple conversations? Very many people with autism do, and now there is a hint that a particular gene can help.

Commentary: It's another study done in animals, not humans, so the relevance remains to be determined. Certainly it isn't the whole story of autism, and this gene will neither cause or cure it. But I'll admit that I wouldn't mind being better able to deal with these distractions!

Time Between Pregnancies Affects Odds of Autism

A recent study finds that, if a mother becomes pregnant twice in close succession, the second child has higher odds of autism; so too if there is a very long gap between pregnancies.

Commentary: The second result -- that long intervals between pregnancies increases autism risk -- isn't really news. We've known for some time that older parents are more likely to have autistic children, so if there is a long gap between pregnancies, the odds of an autistic child are inherently higher. The first result is more surprising. But it is perhaps not entirely unreasonable. Although we know that autism is primarily genetic, there does seem to be an environmental factor. It is possible -- indeed, I think it almost certain -- that prenatal hormones and epigenetic factors are among the leading environmental factors. A mother who gets pregnant soon after a pregnancy ends will have a somewhat different hormonal balance than a mother who waits longer, so it is no great surprise that this will change the odds of autism.

Autism Prevents Cancer?

According to reports, people with autism are substantially less likely to suffer from cancer than are neurotypicals, despite having more genes associated with cancer.

Commentary: I really can't think of much to say about this as science. It doesn't lead to any obvious hypotheses. My only two thoughts are that, first, it's not direct experimentation, just tests of correlation. Correlation is not causation; we don't know what is going on. My other thought is, we know from other recent studies that people with autism die young. In other words, they are more likely to die before their prime cancer-suffering years. The study appears to have tried to control for this. But did they succeed?

Two Disorders In One Set of Genes

A new study finds a strong link between bipolar disorder and autism, as well as schizophrenia, at a genetic level.

Commentary: I can't add any clinical observations to this one, but this feels very, very right to me. Bipolar disorder and autism are what I think of as the "genius disorders" -- the two conditions most likely to be found in people of extraordinarily high creativity. I personally know someone -- a very, very smart someone -- who seems to live right on the boundary between the two. So it makes sense that they would have genes in common.

Mouse Model Suggests Memory Defect Associated with Autism

The ability to learn isn't just the ability to store up facts; it requires the ability to organize data. Scientific models suggest that a process known as "synaptic pruning," which occurs in adolescence, is vital to this process in most mammals. "Synaptic pruning" is, in essence, the process of getting rid of brain connections you don't need. There is evidence that this process is disrupted in both autism and schizophrenia. Now researchers have found evidence in mice about how this process occurs, which they think might lead to new treatments:

Commentary: When it comes to schizophrenia, this research makes sense. Schizophrenia tends to develop in adolescence or early adulthood -- i.e. as or soon after synaptic pruning should take place. And schizophrenia consists of getting messages in your brain that shouldn't be there -- excess signals. So what is described here fits perfects. But in autism? Autism is there from birth, so why should something that happens in adolescence matter?

Tell Me When It Hurts...

A new study suggests that people with autism have altered pain sensitivity (which we knew), and that this can result in self-injurious behavior (which we knew) -- but that the reason for the self-injury may not be directly linked to pain insensitivity:

Commentary: I think there is something to this research, but I also think it oversimplifies something that is incredibly complicated. I do not, in the ordinary course of things, engage in self-injurious behavior -- but I was once placed on a drug which turned me self-injurious, and psychological stresses can also tempt me in that direction, with the nature of the stress determining what I am tempted to do. But I have another interesting observation: when my back hurts, as it sometimes does, I will often pound on places a little above or below the sore spot -- which surely looks like self-injurious behavior. Why do I do it? As a wild guess, because feeling a little pain from a lot of places reduces the strong pain signal from the one bad spot. That fits with some of what they're saying here. But it's only part of the story, for me. I suspect these researchers need to talk to autistic people a little bit more as they design their experiments....

 

Author bio: AuSM member Robert B. Waltz was diagnosed with autism in 2012. He earned his B.A. in physics and mathematics from Hamline University in 1985. He is the author of three books on folklore, the editor of the online folk music database The Traditional Ballad Index, and recently has been informally studying the biology of autism.

Science Fair

An occasional column about science news pertaining to autism

Compiled by Robert B. Waltz

Hey! Listen Up!

Do you have trouble concentrating when there is music in the background, or sorting through multiple conversations? Very many people with autism do, and now there is a hint that a particular gene can help with this:

http://www.news-medical.net/news/20160324/Defective-PTCHD1-gene-in-brain-creates-symptoms-associated-with-autism-and-ADHD.aspx

Commentary: It's another study done in animals, not humans, so the relevance remains to be determined. Certainly it isn't the whole story of autism, and this gene will neither cause or cure it. But I'll admit that I wouldn't mind being better able to deal with these distractions!

Time Between Pregnancies Affects Odds of Autism

A recent study finds that, if a mother becomes pregnant twice in close succession, the second child has higher odds of autism; so too if there is a very long gap between pregnancies.

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/short-gap-between-pregnancies-may-increase-autism-risk/

Commentary: The second result -- that long intervals between pregnancies increases autism risk -- isn't really news. We've known for some time that older parents are more likely to have autistic children, so if there is a long gap between pregnancies, the odds of an autistic child are inherently higher. The first result is more surprising. But it is perhaps not entirely unreasonable. Although we know that autism is primarily genetic, there does seem to be an environmental factor. It is possible -- indeed, I think it almost certain -- that prenatal hormones and epigenetic factors are among the leading environmental factors. A mother who gets pregnant soon after a pregnancy ends will have a somewhat different hormonal balance than a mother who waits longer, so it is no great surprise that this will change the odds of autism.

Autism Prevents Cancer?

According to reports, people with autism are substantially less likely to suffer from cancer than are neurotypicals, despite having more genes associated with cancer:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-3539859/Can-AUTISM-protect-cancer-People-spectrum-two-thirds-likely-develop-disease.html

Commentary: I really can't think of much to say about this as science. It doesn't lead to any obvious hypotheses. My only two thoughts are that, first, it's not direct experimentation, just tests of correlation. Correlation is not causation; we don't know what is going on. My other thought is, we know from other recent studies that people with autism die young. In other words, they are more likely to die before their prime cancer-suffering years. The study appears to have tried to control for this. But did they succeed?

Two Disorders In One Set of Genes

A new study finds a strong link between bipolar disorder and autism, as well as schizophrenia, at a genetic level:

http://now.uiowa.edu/2016/05/study-suggests-bipolar-disorder-has-genetic-links-autism

Commentary: I can't add any clinical observations to this one, but this feels very, very right to me. Bipolar disorder and autism are what I think of as the "genius disorders" -- the two conditions most likely to be found in people of extraordinarily high creativity. I personally know someone -- a very, very smart someone -- who seems to live right on the boundary between the two. So it makes sense that they would have genes in common.

Mouse Model Suggests Memory Defect Associated with Autism

The ability to learn isn't just the ability to store up facts; it requires the ability to organize data. Scientific models suggest that a process known as "synaptic pruning," which occurs in adolescence, is vital to this process in most mammals. "Synaptic pruning" is, in essence, the process of getting rid of brain connections you don't need. There is evidence that this process is disrupted in both autism and schizophrenia. Now researchers have found evidence in mice about how this process occurs, which they think might lead to new treatments:

http://www.news-medical.net/news/20160503/Brain-receptor-that-initiates-adolescent-synaptic-pruning-appears-to-go-awry-in-autism-schizophrenia.aspx

Commentary: When it comes to schizophrenia, this research makes sense. Schizophrenia tends to develop in adolescence or early adulthood -- i.e. as or soon after synaptic pruning should take place. And schizophrenia consists of getting messages in your brain that shouldn't be there -- excess signals. So what is described here fits perfects. But in autism? Autism is there from birth, so why should something that happens in adolescence matter?

Tell Me When It Hurts....

A new study suggests that people with autism have altered pain sensitivity (which we knew), and that this can result in self-injurious behavior (which we knew) -- but that the reason for the self-injury may not be directly linked to pain insensitivity:

http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/863484

Commentary: I think there is something to this research, but I also think it oversimplifies something that is incredibly complicated. I do not, in the ordinary course of things, engage in self-injurious behavior -- but I was once placed on a drug which turned me self-injurious, and psychological stresses can also tempt me in that direction, with the nature of the stress determining what I am tempted to do. But I have another interesting observation: when my back hurts, as it sometimes does, I will often pound on places a little above or below the sore spot -- which surely looks like self-injurious behavior. Why do I do it? As a wild guess, because feeling a little pain from a lot of places reduces the strong pain signal from the one bad spot. That fits with some of what they're saying here. But it's only part of the story, for me. I suspect these researchers need to talk to autistic people a little bit more as they design their experiments....

Author bio: AuSM member Robert B. Waltz was diagnosed with autism in 2012. He earned his B.A. in physics and mathematics from Hamline University in 1985. He is the author of three books on folklore, the editor of the online folk music database The Traditional Ballad Index, and recently has been informally studying the biology of autism.