Maternal Immune Activation and Autism

A new study published this month by the American Association of the Advancement of Science indicates that immune cells “may have a direct role in causing behaviors linked to autism.” The study abstract noted that previous research has already shown “viral infection during pregnancy has been correlated with increased frequency of autism spectrum disorder in offspring.”

For this study, researchers at New York University Langone studied a subset of T-helper lymphocyte cells called TH17 and the production of cytokine interleukin-17a (IL-17a). The study in mice mimicked a viral invasion and showed using genetic mutants and blocking antibodies that TH17 and IL-17a caused maternal immune activation (MIA) behavior abnormalities in mice offspring. Additionally, the study demonstrated that “blocking the action of TH17 and IL-17a completely restored normal structure and functioning” in the mice offspring brains. The study’s authors suggest that the “therapeutic targeting of TH17 cells in susceptible pregnant mothers may reduce the likelihood of bearing children with inflammation-induced” autism spectrum disorder behaviors.

Sources:  http://science.sciencemag.org/content/early/2016/01/27/science.aad0314

https://www.rt.com/news/330705-autism-disorder-treatment-cells/

Sulcal Pit as a Genetic Marker for Autism

Scientists in France have identified a genetic marker for autism that they found in a “less deep fold of Broca’s area” — an area of the brain that specializes in language and communication. The scientists at the Institut de Neurosciences de la Timone, located in Marseille, focused on this “new geometric marker called the sulcal pit.” The sulcal pit is the “deepest point of the sulcus in the cerebral cortex from which points all the folds on the brain’s surface develop.”

Using MRI scans, the scientists analyzed the sulcal pits of 102 young boys aged 2-10 according to three groups:  Autism spectrum disorder, pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified and “normal developing” children. Comparing the three groups, the depth of the sulcal pit in the brain was less in the autism spectrum disorder group than in the other two groups. The scientists also noted in the autistic children that the deeper the sulcal pits were, the more “impaired the language production” was in the children.

Additionally, the study disproved a previously held belief that brain “cortical folding was complete at birth.” The French scientists noted that some of the brains’ “superficial folding continued to deepen with age in both the autistic and other children.”

Source:  http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/01/160113101121.htm including journal reference Brun Lucile, Auzias Guillaume, Viellard Marine, Villeneuve Nathalie, Girard Nadine, Poinso François, Da Fonseca David, Christine Deruelle. Localized misfolding within Broca’s area as a distinctive feature of autistic disorderBiological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging, 2015; DOI: 10.1016/j.bpsc.2015.11.003 published 12 January 2016.

Robot Helps Children with Autism Learn Social Skills

Milo, is a two foot-tall humanoid robot that uses facial expressions and children’s voices to demonstrate appropriate social behavior in order to help kids with autism learn social skills. The robot was developed by Robokind and the children’s voices were developed by Acapela Group to help autistic kids engage with the robot in order to teach them the meaning of emotions and facial expressions.

Milo uses the Robots4Autism’s research-based curriculum to teach elementary and middle school-aged kids about acting appropriately in social situations and demonstrating empathy while encouraging more self-motivation in the kids. “Recent research has shown that children working with a therapist and Milo are engaged 70-80% of the time compared to just 3-10% of the time without the robot.”

Robots4Autism’s curriculum for kids with autism is available in Android and iOS. Some of the benefits of the curriculum are noted to be “observable increases in eye contact, body language and friendliness, intrinsically motivates children to learn and documents and records sessions for later inclusion and review in IEPs.” You can find out more about Milo and the Robots4Autism curriculum at the robokindrobots’ website.

Sources: http://www.robokindrobots.com/robots4autism-home/

http://autism.einnews.com/article/301938397/dmzHv36mfCmo2GXc