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Spectrum: Autism Research News

Spotted A roundup of autism papers and media mentions you may have missed.

Regression review; gendered association; model tribute and more

by  /  15 December 2017

December 11th

Regression review

When does autism begin? Clinicians once considered two options: onset at birth or regression during toddlerhood. Growing evidence suggests more of a continuum of timing and variability in when parents detect the loss of skills. Researchers involved in a 2016 National Institute of Mental Health review of this evidence have pulled together a useful summary, published 11 December in Autism Research.

Gendered association

People with features of autism are more likely than other adults to report being non-heterosexual. And having more autism features is linked with gender dysphoria — a feeling of disconnect between internal perception and sex assigned at birth — in children and teenagers, researchers reported 30 November in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

Among people with gender dysphoria, the number of autism features falls between that of typically developing children and those on the spectrum, the study suggests. The investigators found no gender effects on questionnaire scores. This absence of gender effects most likely reflects the absence of any sex-hormone influence on autism features, and so excludes the ‘extreme male brain’ explanation for autism, the researchers say.

Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders / 30 Nov 2017
Adverse effects

Children with autism experience harmful events, including bullying and income insufficiency, more often than typical children, according to a review of dozens of studies. Such experiences can increase the risk for health problems, say the researchers. They published their findings 4 December in Current Opinion in Psychiatry.

Adverse events can also delay diagnosis and treatment for a child with autism. Children on the spectrum are not, however, at increased risk for child maltreatment, the researchers say.

Prized distinction

A film tracing the love story of Dina Buno and Scott Levin, both of whom have autism, has won the International Documentary Association’s honor for top feature. Variety reported 9 December that the movie, “Dina,” also won the U.S. documentary grand jury prize at its Sundance Film Festival debut in January.

Model tribute

Paul Patterson left his mark on autism research through his work on mouse models and immunity. In honor of his legacy, Experimental Neurology has devoted a special section of their latest issue to animal models of autism, including zebrafish,  Caenorhabditis elegans and, of course, mice. The journal published the series 6 December.

Metaphor matchup

If you had to choose an analogy that best describes CRISPR, what comes to mind? For journalists struggling to find metaphors befitting the gene-editing tool, the choice has included everything from “knockout punch” to “scissors.” Two STAT reporters have ranked some of the analogies on offer, placing “hand of God” lowest but giving props to “search and replace.”

Book boycott

Judith Newman’s book “To Siri with Love” has drawn a wave of strong criticism from adults with autism, the Observer reported 8 December. They are reacting to Newman’s entries regarding her son on the spectrum, specifically about wanting medical power of attorney to ensure that he has a vasectomy (which she has since said she doesn’t plan to do) and the intimate details she reveals about him.

Sensory bypass

Using electrical stimulation, researchers have bypassed incoming sensory pathways and sent instructions straight to the seat of muscle activity in monkey brains. The stimulation was not strong enough to trigger movement directly, but the electrical messages caused the monkeys to move as though they were responding to real sensory inputs, according to results published 7 December in Neuron.

The ability to bypass a sensory pathway holds promise for treating neurological conditions associated with problems in these regions. One caveat: The study involved only two monkeys.

Deep-set barrels

Mice relay information from their sensitive whiskers to a brain area called the barrel cortex, which researchers have long used to model mammalian sensory processing. Investigators publishing 12 December in Cell Reports describe yet another set of barrels lying deeper than the whisker barrels.

Dubbing the newfound structures “infrabarrels,” researchers say that these structures probably relay sensory information and response between the cortex, or outer part of the brain, and the thalamus, the transit hub for incoming and outgoing signals. This addition to the sensory circuitry further refines the complex map of input-specific pathways.

Editorial shift

After 22 years as editor-in-chief at Nature, Philip Campbell plans to bow out in July 2018. Campbell told Nature Wednesday that he’s making the change because it’s time for a “new phase” in his career. He’ll still hold an editor-in-chief title, however, in his new role overseeing Springer Nature’s group of publications.

News tips

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