Autism Not Just A Brain Disorder

According to a study published in Cell Press, while autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are thought to be caused by deficits in brain development, there are some aspects that are linked to defects in another area of the nervous system including the peripheral nerves found throughout the limbs, digits, and other parts of the body that communicate sensory information to the brain.

“An underlying assumption has been that ASD is solely a disease of the brain, but we’ve found that may not always be the case,” said one researcher. “Advances in mouse genetics have made it possible for us to study genes linked to ASD by altering them only in certain types of nerve cells and studying the effects.”

Specifically, the study focused on the gene mutation Mecp2 that causes Rett syndrome as well as Gabrb3, both which are implicated in ASD. These genes are believed to be essential for the normal function of nerve cells, and previous studies have linked these mutations to problems with synaptic function.

“Although we know about several genes associated with ASD, a challenge and major goal has been to find where in the nervous system the problems occur,” said the researcher. “By engineering mice that have these mutations only in their peripheral sensory neurons, which detect light touch stimuli acting on the skin, we’ve shown that mutations there are both necessary and sufficient for creating mice with an abnormal hypersensitivity to touch.”

Using techniques, the researchers found that mice with ASD gene mutations in only their sensory neurons exhibited heightened sensitivity to touch stimuli and were unable to discriminate between textures. The transmission of neural impulses between the touch-sensitive neurons in the skin and the spinal cord neurons that relay touch signals to the brain was also abnormal. Together, these results show that mice with ASD-associated gene mutations have deficits in tactile perception.

These findings may pave the way for future treatments for those suffering with autism spectrum disorders.


raziRazi Berry, Founder and Publisher of Naturopathic Doctor News & Review (ndnr.com) and NaturalPath (thenatpath.com), has spent the last decade as a natural medicine advocate and marketing whiz. She has galvanized and supported the naturopathic community, bringing a higher quality of healthcare to millions of North Americans through her publications. A self-proclaimed health-food junkie and mother of two; she loves all things nature, is obsessed with organic gardening, growing fruit trees (not easy in Phoenix), laughing until she snorts, and homeschooling. She is a little bit crunchy and yes, that is her real name.

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