Could it lead to breakthroughs in treatments for autism?
A stunning new breakthrough on autism could have huge implications for treating this disorder.
As we recently reported, scientists at Harvard and MIT have made a huge discovery on autism by discovering a link between the neurotransmitter GABA and autism symptoms, which could result in new treatments and diagnosis methods — but what exactly does this mean for autism sufferers?
Autism is essentially a neurodevelopmental disorder that manifests itself in difficulties with social interaction and communication, both verbanl and non-verbal. It can also result in restricted and repetitive behavior. The signs usually start showing up in the child’s first two years of life, with symptoms coming on gradually. Environmental and genetic factors appear to cause it, although sometimes it can be caused by birth defects in rare cases. There are an estimated 21.7 million people in the world who have autism.
Caroline Robertson of MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research said in a statement that this discovery is the first time a connection has been shown between a neurotransmitter in the brain and an autistic behavioral symptom.
“Individuals with autism are known to have detail-oriented visual perception–exhibiting remarkable attention to small details in the sensory environment and difficulty filtering out or suppressing irrelevant sensory information,” she said. “It’s long been thought this might have something to do with inhibition in the brain, and our findings lend support to this notion.”
GABA neurotransmitters essentially inhibit brain cells from responding to the external environment. If researchers can shut it down, it could lead to tremendous breakthroughs in treating the disorder. Apparently, the lack of GABA inhibition may be the cause of the hypersensitivity that autistic people often exhibit.
New drugs would likely target GABA pathways, limiting them in a way that would allow doctors to control the disorder. It would also help in diagnosing the condition earlier.