Researchers at the University of Toronto have just discovered a factor that may cause as much as a third of all diagnosed cases of autism. Experiments on mice have shown that lowering the levels of one protein in the brain is enough to cause autistic behavior.
Previous Studies Confirmed
Previous studies conducted by the Canadian team have shown that there is a connection between autism and a protein in the brain called nSR100 or SRRM4. More specifically, individuals diagnosed with various forms of autism seem to have lower levels of this protein in their brains.
In order to understand the phenomenon even better, the researchers conducted several experiments on mice, which confirmed what they had initially suspected.
What the researchers did was to genetically modify several mice by lowering the levels of the protein in their brain by up to 50 percent. The results were impressive.
The mice, which had undergone the procedure, started to exhibit autistic traits immediately, such as increased sensitivity to noise and avoidance of social contact as well as certain differences in overall brain wiring.
Researchers believe nSR100 is so important because it regulates alternative splicing, a process responsible for generating numerous other proteins, which compose the cells themselves.
This process is especially intense in the case of the brain, which explains its complexity as well as the fact that one variance can cause such massive changes in behavior.
Moreover, nSR100 also influences the activity of the neurons, which is abnormal in the case of autistic individuals, being increased.
The team of researchers, including Professor Sabine Cordes, believe the new studies will help devise new ways to improve the lives of those diagnosed with autism.
"Instead of focusing on individual mutations linked to autism, it's much more powerful to identify regulatory hubs like nSR100. In the future, if you turned this protein up a little bit in autistic patients, you might be able to improve some of the behavioral deficits," noted Cordes.
Disorder Affecting 1 Percent Of The Population
Autism has been high on researchers' agenda both because it is present in a significant number of people at a global scale and also because it severely affects both the quality of life of the diagnosed patients and of their families.
The neuronal disorder manifests with various degrees of intensity, and thus some individuals can have almost normal social interactions for the entire duration of their lives. For many others, however, even the simplest social cues can be a challenge.
So far, no clear cause has been identified for the disorder, even though the general consensus is that it is a genetic one.