Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have shown that it may be possible to reverse autism.
Autism is a genetically-linked condition and there is still much uncertainty as to what all the different genetic causes of the condition are. One genetic cause for example, affecting 1% of the those with autism, is the lack of a Shank3, which has responsibilities related to brain development. Those missing the gene experience autism symptoms such as avoiding social activities/interactions and repetitive behavior.
The Shank3 protein is located in synapses, which connect neurons in a sense and allow them to pass on messages. It is a scaffold protein that organizes other proteins that are integral to coordinating a response to incoming communication messages for a given neuron.
MIT researchers published a study in the journal “Nature” that specifically examined the process of re-activating a gene later in life in a mice model. Specifically, they chose to “turn off” the Shank3 gene early in embryonic development for mice and subsequently re-activated the gene later in life through the addition of tamoxifen to the mice’s diet.
The study demonstrated the brain’s plasticity, as autism symptoms were mostly reduced even later in the adolescence of these mice. The study shed light on the extent to which the adult brain has plasticity despite the fact that the brain stopped growing.
Although there is a long road ahead before the information can be applied to human beings, the study holds promise; scientists can consider gene therapy to help those with autism.
Future research, MIT professor of brain and cognitive sciences, Guoping Feng, noted, can be directed towards understanding what is the cause of general defects.
For more information, visit: www.mit.edu.
Featured Image by: MIT