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Spectrum: Autism Research News

Community Newsletter: Better measurement; Rett rescue; interactomes; social touch

by  /  29 January 2023
Many mouths making conversation, with speech bubbles in red and blue.
Illustration by Laurène Boglio

We’re kicking things off this week with a PsyArXiv preprint about ways to improve measurement precision in neuroscience — and enhance reproducibility.

“Huge samples are not the only answer to the replication crisis,” tweeted Mario Reutter, professor of psychology at University of Würzburg in Germany, one of 25 researchers involved in the project. “Additionally, we should make our measurements more precise.”

Various factors can influence measurement precision across nine methods, including MRI, electroencephalography and eye tracking, the team reported. For example, infrared eye trackers measure brown eyes more precisely than blue ones.

“It was a pleasure being involved in this multi-researcher project!” tweeted Louisa Kulke, professor of neurocognitive developmental psychology at Friedrich Alexander University in Erlangen, Germany.

Elsewhere on Twitter, neuroscientists sounded off about a new paper in Science Translational Medicine that used “epigenome editing tools to … rescue Rett syndrome neurons,” according to a tweet from study lead Shawn Liu, assistant professor of physiology and cellular biophysics at Columbia University.

The study “serves as an example to tackle other X-linked human disease,” Liu continued.

“Suspect we will see more coming from this application as the fields looks to breakthrough beyond rare indications,” tweeted Twitter user BowTiedBiotech.

One user asked when the strategy could be tested on people with Rett. Liu replied that the team is hard at work to test it “in vivo using animal model and then hopefully initiate clinical study.”

Next up, scientists considered some new biological insights into autism from a study published in Cell Genomics this month that used “human brain-specific interactomes as a framework to complement genetic&transcriptomic data,” tweeted study investigator Greta Pintacuda, research scientist at the Lage Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge.

“Protein-Protein interaction of the 13 autism genes in human Ngn2 neurons showed nice convergence and some surprises!” tweeted Michele Gabriele, a research fellow in Anders Sejr Hansen’s lab at MIT.

This next thread leads with the question: “How does the brain perceive social touch as pleasant?”

“Our story takes us from the skin to the brain to answer this question,” tweeted Leah Elias, a postdoctoral fellow in Seth Blackshaw’s lab at John Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, in a thread detailing results from her study published in Cell this month. Elias and her colleagues found that Mrgprb4-lineage neurons are implicated in rewarding social-touch behaviors. This fills a critical knowledge gap, the researchers say, “especially when considering the nature of neurodevelopmental disorders like autism spectrum disorder, where gentle touch and socially rewarding behaviors are aversive.”

Spectrum covered how social touch shapes autism traits in a Deep Dive in May 2019.

Katerina Fotopoulou, professor of psychodynamic neuroscience at University of London in the United Kingdom, wondered if “touch addictions” could be a next step in the research.

“Super cool story about pleasant touch sensation and a beautifully written Twitter thread to help explain it all!” tweeted Kate Sadler, professor of neuroscience at the University of Texas at Dallas.

That’s it for this week’s Community Newsletter! If you have any suggestions for interesting social posts you saw in the autism research sphere, feel free to send an email to [email protected].

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