(Mirror Daily, United States) – Autism is one of the most studied disorders on a global scale, but despite having been the center of countless studies, it remains a subject with more questions than answers. Specific triggers, risk factors, and even characteristic symptoms are still extremely difficult to define.
But the most elusive puzzle-piece of all is effective treatment, but that might soon change. A group of experts believes they discovered a previously undetected connection between neurotransmitter pathway defects and autism, one that could reveal some of the secrets of the disorder.
According to scientists at MIT and Harvard, the amazing new discovery could shed new light on the causes and symptoms of autism like never before, and have tremendous implications in the medical world.
For the first time ever, researchers were able to identify a connection between the symptoms of autism and the neurotransmitter GABA, which could prompt new treatments and diagnosing methods for the disorder.
Senior author Caroline Robertson of MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research gave a statement explaining that this is the first connection found in humans, linking “a neurotransmitter in the brain and an autistic behavioral symptom.”
What GABA neurotransmitters do is inhibit brain cells that would otherwise respond to the external environment, so scientists believe that figuring out a way to filter out – or completely shut down – those signals would advance future treatments of autism.
In fact, the team of researchers thinks the hypersensitivity seen in autism patients is the results of a severe lack of GABA inhibition. It’s a well-known fact that autistic individuals have a hard time tuning out distracting sensations, which leads to a feeling of overwhelm in situations that feel normal for most people.
Ambient noise, for example, is something that could cause a great deal of stress in people dealing with autism, while those who don’t can simply ignore it.
For the study, scientists asked a group of subjects to do a visual task that involved brain inhibition, and evaluated their reactions. Autistic individuals could switch back and forth half as much as those who did not have autism, and struggled more to suppress certain images.
Researchers believe the discovery, published in the journal Current Biology, could have important implications for those who suffer from autism, prompting a new range of drugs that would target GABA pathways.
At the same time, it could enable physicians to establish an earlier diagnose by examining GABA activity in early screenings.
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