Saturday, January 16, 2010

In Future Will Autism Spectrum Disorders Be Referred To As Brain Connectivity Disorders?

Another study has been published, the results of which, according to Science Centric,adds to evidence that autism is a brain 'connectivity' disorder. I had previously commented on brain connectivity in April 2009 noting that a study at that time was supportive of a previous,  2006,  study linking autism disorders to brain connectivity issues: Autism's Four C's: Cerebellum, Connectivity, Coordination, Communication.  If further study results indicate that autism deficits arise from brain connectivity disorders will the autism spectrum disorders come to be known as the Brain Connectivity Disorders?  More importantly, if brain connectivity is the biological problem that gives rise to autism disorders will  effective treatments and cures be developed targeting the connectivity issues?

As reported on Science Direct the study's lead researcher Mustafa Sahin, MD, PhD, of Children's Department of Neurology, made statements that hold out some hope that treatments might ultimately result from further brain connectivity research :

"'People have started to look at autism as a developmental disconnection syndrome - there are either too many connections or too few connections between different parts of the brain,' says Sahin. 'In the mouse models, we're seeing an exuberance of connections, consistent with the idea that autism may involve a sensory overload, and/or a lack of filtering of information.'
Sahin hopes that the brain's miswiring can be corrected by drugs targeting the molecular pathways that cause it. The mTOR pathway is emerging as central to various kinds of axon abnormalities, and drugs inhibiting mTOR has already been approved by the FDA. For example, one mTOR inhibitor, rapamycin, is currently used mainly to prevent organ rejection in transplant patients, and Sahin plans to launch a clinical trial of a rapamycin-like drug in approximately 50 patients with TSC later this year, to see if the drug improves neurocognition, autism and seizures."

This is one father of a severely autistic son who is hoping that such research does lead to viable autism treatments and cures.  I want my son to have the opportunity to participate as fully in life as I have done.   Correcting connectivity issues that would enhance his understanding of the world?  Absolutely.

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Astrid said...

I thinkit will be a long time before autism can be cured through fixing brain connectivity problems. As Dr. Sahin wrote in the exceprt you quote, both too few and too many connections can be speculated in autism, as well as of course different connections. Brain connectivity is a veyr complex thing, and it is quite possible that various forms of "disconnectivity" will play a role in autism, thereby calling for various "fixes". As a side note, of course merely knowing the neurological basis of a disorder will not bring us much closer to a cure. There is still no cure for many neurological disorders of which the brain abnormality involved or even the genetics (in conditions that are 100% genetic, and that isn't even the case with autism) are known, and ther eis still no treatment, let alone cure. It is a logn way from brain imaging that can show "disconnectivity" and accurately link it to autism in a specific individual to a treatment for it. And we aren't at that individual level anyway; for the most part, we aren't even at the human level, since part of the recent study still involved rats. Don't be too optimistic; rats are not humans even if there are striking similarities, and human study subjects may not be representative of all humans with the same condition.

As for your comment on autism spectrum disorders being called brain connectivity disorders, it is possible that, as neuroscience advances, neurological conditions will be classified by their brain-based features, so in that sense there may be such a thing as "brain connectivity disorders". But it is quite possible that this hypothetical cluster of disorders will not be analogous with current ASDs, that are based on behavioral criteria.

Unknown said...

Don't worry Astrid I will not be TOO optimistic that my son might someday benefit from a treatment or cure. And I do understand the complexities involved. Those who are ideologically opposed to autistic children being cured need not worry about that happening too soon.

Penny said...

Dr Gutstein's (of RDI) been referring to autism as a disorder of underconnectivity for several years.

farmwifetwo said...

Maybe they'll start dx'ing via MRI's... that'll annoy the self-dx'd group.

I asked about one for my youngest and got told they don't do them here for ASD's.

Karen Freeman said...

I think most of us parents agree that we have to maintain hope. The University of Connecticut has documented many children who have recovered. It does happen and through scientific studies and recording the progress of these children now it has been established in science. So, we can take the Connecticut study and this new conductivity study and see what we can do to help our children function better.

At our home, have enrolled our son in the FastForward program which targets area of the brain where he has a significant problem. Also, The Listening Program has been shown to help children regulate their auditory processing. Jacob is starting that as well in the following month. Recent studies have also shown that our children have a delay in processing sound. These two programs can help people with auditory processing problems regulate and (after several months) can produce significant improvements.

We cannot give up on our children -it isn't their fault that this has happened to them. These studies are welcome to me as a parent as they narrow down the areas where we can target and help our children.

We live in an exciting time in science and optimisim (particularly from parents) is what keeps the science motivated to look for breakthroughs. Hope is always welcomed at our home.

coc said...


I'd love to see an MRI for my child, but how to get around the problem that there is no bloody way he'd tolerate the procedure? Fake MRI machines where they could be acclimatised to the experience?

I expect that wouldn't be too unusual a problem for children on the spectrum, particularly those with poor communication abilities?

Claire said...

@coc...MRI's can be done under anesthesia. It is the only option for many with severe challenges (my daughter is a candidate for such a procedure)...I myself would prefer to have it done that way, if I ever needed one!! Those things are awful.

coc said...

Thanks Claire. I thought you had to be conscious? These guys mention a sedative but not a general anaesthetic. I can't imagine my child submitting to it, even though it is completely painless.

Claire said...

Hey coc...nope, don't have to be conscious. The reason I know is because there was talk of my daughter getting an MRI for a detailed spinal view, and general anesthesia was the only option...not sedation, but actual anesthesia. It's quite involved, but, as I said, there's no other way. MRI's are painless, but claustrophobic, and very, very noisy.

coc said...

Thanks for that Claire.