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April 10, 2018 Tuesday 03:07:23 PM IST
When the Kid's Autistic Brain can't Calm Down

One third of children who have autism spectrum disorder also have epilepsy, says study. It's related to a major autism risk gene, which is mutated in patients with autism. Though medical sciences have progressed so much, scientists didn't know why the mutation, catnap2, caused seizures.

Now Northwestern Medicine scientists have discovered that the mutation acts like a bad gardener in the brain. It shrinks the neurons' tiny branches and leaves -- its dendrite arbors and synapses -- that enable brain cells to relay vital messages and control the brain's activity. The shrinkage causes a breakdown in message delivery.

And the important message that gets lost is to "Calm Down!”

In people with the mutation, inhibitory neurons don't grow enough branches and leaves to communicate their Zen-like message, the scientists found. That leads to seizures. It is the job of the inhibitory neurons to keep things tranquil in the brain and slam the brake on excitatory neurons. This leads to seizures. The paper was published April 2 in Molecular Psychiatry.

(Story Source: Journal published by Northwestern University)

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