Researchers Link Autism To A System That Insulates Brain Wiring

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Researchers have found a clue that affects how the brain’s information highway in those with autism spectrum disorders is disrupted.

The problem involves cells that help keep the traffic of signals moving smoothly through brain circuits, a team reported Monday in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

In both mouse and human brains, researchers found an abnormality in cells that produce myelin, a substance that acts as an insulator for brain circuits that allows for smooth brain signals from one area to another. Having too much or too little myelin can result in a number of neurological problems.

For example, multiple sclerosis occurs when the myelin around nerve fibers is damaged. The results, which vary from person to person, can affect not only the signals that control muscles, but also the ones involved in learning and thinking.

The finding could explain why there is such a wide range of social and behavioral features of autism spectrum disorders. And if myelin is the problem, there are drugs that could prevent or reverse the condition.

“It’s possible to make these cells healthier,” adds Dr. Daniel Weinberger, director of the Lieber Institute and a professor at Johns Hopkins. “And it’s never been a target of treatment in autism.”

See more to this story at NPR.