A new study calls into question the assumption that Rett syndrome is exclusively a neurodevelopmental disorder caused by the lack of a critical protein in utero.
The placenta regulates the levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brains of mice at a key stage in embryonic development, according to a study published 21 April in Nature. The results suggest that the fetal environment can influence the long-term mental health of children, including whether they later develop autism or schizophrenia.
Few scientists have a career that spans as wide a spectrum in autism research as Simon Baron-Cohen, professor of developmental psychopathology at the University of Cambridge in the U.K. And fewer still garner effusive compliments from those who don’t agree with them.
Genetic syndromes associated with autism are increasingly being diagnosed in utero because of techniques that can identify subtle mutations in the genome. But the technology is ahead of the ethical debate on whether and how to inform parents about mutations with unknown effects.
Infection with swine flu in early pregnancy causes inflammation in the placenta, and raises the risk of schizophrenia and autism in the offspring, according to a study published in January in Neuropharmacology.