New Study Reveals Early Brain Development Differences in Autism, Opening Path for Future Treatments

The image shows a multicolored puzzle ribbon, which is commonly associated with autism awareness. The ribbon is held by multiple hands, symbolizing support and unity in the autism community. The hands appear to be of different ages, suggesting a connection between children and adults in the effort to raise awareness and provide support for autism.

Researchers have achieved a significant milestone in understanding how autism develops in the womb, potentially paving the way for future treatments. Autism spectrum disorders, affecting about 1 in 100 children globally, involve challenges with social interaction and communication. The degree of these difficulties varies widely, ranging from mild to severe. Until now, the reasons behind this variability were not well understood. Scientists from the University of California San Diego have used lab-grown mini brains, known as brain cortical organoids, to explore differences in brain development during the first weeks of pregnancy between children with autism and neurotypical children.

In their study, the researchers collected stem cells from blood samples of 10 toddlers with autism and six neurotypical toddlers. These stem cells were reprogrammed to form brain-like structures, allowing the team to observe early brain development. They discovered that the mini brains of children with autism were, on average, 40% larger than those of neurotypical children. This excessive growth correlated with the severity of autism symptoms, suggesting that abnormal brain growth in the first trimester could be an early indicator of autism. The study also identified that a protein called NDEL1, which regulates brain growth, was present at lower levels in the organoids from children with autism, potentially contributing to the overgrowth.

The researchers aim to uncover more molecular mechanisms underlying this abnormal brain growth, which could eventually lead to new treatments for managing autism symptoms. Understanding the embryonic origins of different autism subtypes is crucial, as this research highlights the biological basis of the social challenges faced by individuals with autism and provides insights into when these differences begin. Such studies are essential for developing targeted interventions that address the root causes of autism.

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Source: Newsweek

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