A study published in August 2014 in the journal Neuron is shedding new light on brain function in autism. This new study suggests that there is an oversupply of synapses in at least some parts of the brains of children with autism, and that the brain’s ability to thin out the number of synapses is compromised. The found more synapses in the temporal lope involved in social behavior and communication. This would help explain some symptoms like over-sensitivity to noise or social experiences as well as why many people with autism also have epileptic seizures. “More is not better when it comes to synapses, for sure, and pruning is absolutely essential,” said Lisa Boulanger, a molecular biologist at Princeton who was involved in the research. “If it was overgrowth of synapses, you would expect the brains to be different from the start but because the synapse difference comes later in development, it’s due to a breakdown in clearing or pruning.”
This study will also help scientists search for treatment, if they can develop safe therapies to fix the system the brain uses to clear extra synapses. The findings are the latest in an area of autism research that is drawing increasing interest. For years, scientists have debated whether autism is a problem of brains with too little connectivity or too much or some combination.
Article by Pam Belluck (New York Times; Sunday August 24th, 2014)