Spotted A roundup of autism papers and media mentions you may have missed.
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Maternal immunity; drug doubts; harassment scandal and more

by  /  15 September 2017

WEEK OF
September 11th

Maternal immunity

A growing pile of studies link maternal immunity and autism. A pair of reports published in Nature on 13 September adds to the stack. In the first, investigators describe a brain region associated with behavioral changes in mice exposed in utero to maternal inflammation. The second describes an association among these behaviors, maternal inflammation and maternal gut bacteria in mice.

Only some types of gut bacteria in the mother lead to altered behavior — such as decreased social activity — in the pups. Wiping out these microbes in the mothers appears to protect the pups from the effects of a simulated maternal infection.

Infant inflexibility

Head-movement patterns may hint at autism in early infancy. Researchers compared how infants at high risk for autism (those who have an older sibling with the condition) and those at low risk move their heads during sleep and while listening to spoken language. High-risk infants do not vary their movement with the changing environment, whereas low-risk infants do. The findings were published 12 September in Scientific Reports.

The investigators describe the unchanging pattern among high-risk infants as “a striking lack of diversity” in movements. They interpret the unvaried response as an expression of an “inflexible sensorimotor system” and an indicator that the developing nervous system in these babies may not be sorting out environmental cues from background noise effectively.

Adult transitions

Research on the needs of people with autism as they enter adulthood is lacking, and coordination among different service and support programs is critical for adults on the spectrum. These findings top a list of recommendations from a 3 August U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report to Congress. The report is part of the Autism Collaboration, Accountability, Research, Education and Support Act of 2014.

Sources
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services / 03 Aug 2017

Young adults and transitioning youth with autism spectrum disorder

Medication mayhem

In children, an autism diagnosis can open the door to an ever-lengthening lineup of medications. Research confirming an association between diagnosis and increased medication use raises concerns that people turn to these drugs because they cannot access interventions that target core autism features. The findings were published 18 August in the Journal of Population Therapeutics and Clinical Pharmacology.

Sources

Harassment scandal

A sexual harassment scandal is roiling the brain and cognitive sciences department at the University of Rochester in New York. One long-time researcher has resigned in protest and joined seven other professors who filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission over the alleged actions of a faculty member, Mother Jones reported 8 September.

Following an investigation into the allegations, university officials decided to take no action against the faculty member, T. Florian Jaeger. However, Jaeger will no longer be teaching an undergraduate class that was assigned to him this semester, Mother Jones reported Wednesday.

Drug doubt

Antidepressant use during pregnancy has been linked to autism risk, but three studies published earlier this year called the association into question. Findings from a new Danish registry study of almost a million children don’t point to a clear-cut connection, either. The researchers reported a “marginally elevated” autism risk with maternal antidepressants on 6 September in the British Medical Journal.

“The observed associations of in utero antidepressant exposure with autism spectrum disorder and behavioral disorder are modest, if they exist,” the researchers write.

Cuddly robots

Robots have become a bit of a trend in autism therapy, but forget the stereotype of cold metal machines with computerized voices. A Cornell University-Google partnership is aimed at developing an unintimidating robot autism therapist. The robot, Blossom, sports woolly crocheted coverings that give it the appeal of a cuddly bunny, Fast Company reported 6 September.

Crowdsourcing participants

The U.K. autism research charity Autistica is recruiting participants for its Discover network. People with autism, their family members and autism researchers can sign up. The goal of the network is to include more people with autism in research, and to focus investigations on areas that people on the spectrum and their families select.

Sources
Autistica / 13 Sep 2017

Discover Network

Caregiver care

People who support those with disabilities often can use help themselves. In a small randomized trial, caregivers of people with autism benefited from coping effectiveness training delivered by genetic counselors. The results were published 6 September in the Journal of Genetic Counseling.

Anticipated awards

The wait is over, and some worried autism researchers can celebrate. The U.S. National Institutes of Health has awarded nine grants for the Autism Centers of Excellence program to the tune of almost $100 million over the next five years. Recipients include investigators at Drexel, Emory, Duke and Yale universities and the University of California, Davis, the agency announced 7 September.

Sources
U.S. National Institutes of Health / 07 Sep 2017

NIH awards nearly $100 million for Autism Centers of Excellence program

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