Monday, August 11, 2008

Autism Results From Impaired Timing of "Learning Windows"; Critical Periods of Brain Plasticity

Takao Hensch, Ph.D., professor of molecular and cellular biology at Harvard University and professor of neurology at Children's Hospital Boston is the senior investigator of a team of scientists who have identified a protein, Otx2, which is necessary for learning. Otx2 works with other cells called parvalbumin to permit the brain to learn during important development windows. The Ivanhoe Medical Breakthroughs newswire release states the parvalbumin cells make connections in parts of the brain that process visual information and receive information from the eye.

These cells work with the Otx2 protein to encourage brain plasticity, the ability to learn:

After studying the function of parvalbumin cells in mice, Dr. Hensch and his colleagues found the Otx2 proteins are sent to these cells by the retina, triggering critical periods of brain plasticity.

Dr. Hensch said developmental disorders like autism are a result of impaired timing of these learning "windows," like the one during which children learn to read. He said he hopes the discovery of this protein will eventually lead to new treatments for disorders like autism, and brain injuries.

The study article, Experience-Dependent Transfer of Otx2 Homeoprotein into the Visual Cortex Activates Postnatal Plasticity, is published in Cell, Vol 134, 508-520, 08 August 2008.

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