HEALTHATHON: Question 7: Autism Research


7.   Is there any notable research going on as of right now that you are excited about?


Dr. Kari Miller:

Autism Linked To Mirror Neuron Dysfunction

If you haven’t heard about “mirror neurons” you can learn more about them in this article.

Mirror neurons are brain cells that fire when a person observes someone else performing movements.  These neurons are also thought to be involved in language, imitation of others’ actions, deciphering others’ intentions, and empathy.  Some researchers speculate that ASD may be related to dysfunction in the mirror neuron system.


Proposed causes of autism: Disorder in glutamate regulation and microglial activity

This interesting article discusses research published in Current Medicinal Chemistry proposing that environmental and dietary factors may trigger a devastating cycle of events affecting certain activities of the brain.  Specifically, researchers R.L. Blaylock and A. Strunecka propose that increased levels of glutamate, a neurotransmitter involved in more than half of the brain’s neural transmissions, is implicated in ASD.


National Autism Center releases report on educational and behavioral treatments

This review discusses the comprehensive research on treatments released in December of 2009.


Amy Hummel:

Here is a link to the press release and additional information about the Korean Prevalence Study that is being talked about in the news today. Click here

The two big takeaways are:

1)      The prevalence is 2.6% or  1 in 38

2)      Given the more comprehensive case-finding methodology used by Dr. Kim, this result suggests that the number in the U.S. is likely to be and under-estimate.

Abby Twyman:

The most interesting studies to follow are the infant sibling studies being conducted by the UC Davis M.I.N.D. Institute. These studies are looking at siblings of individuals with autism and trying to identify early indicators of autism. These studies are looking at developmental trajectories using eye tracking, behavioral probes and other diagnostic methods. Their goal is to understand the underlying mechanisms of autism and how it develops and progresses through childhood. They are also conducting the Autism Phenome Project (APP) which is a longitudinal study of 1800 individuals with autism investigating findings from medical evaluations, environmental exposures/epidemiology, behavior and neuropsychology, genomics, brain structure, brain function and immune function. Both of these research projects have the potential to provide the community with some extremely valuable data which will further our understanding of this complex disorder.

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