Two globe and chat bubble hybrids overlap against a blue background.
burak çakmak / Adobe Stock

Autism researchers’ top tweets in 2022

Social media chatter this past year took up a mysterious gene region, the brain’s physical geometry and other topics related to the advancement of autism science.

Twitter buzzed with talk about exciting autism-related research in 2022. Here we take a look back at some of the year’s top tweets.

Geneticists continued to make important contributions to the field. Consider, for example, the study in Nature Genetics in October that told a “story of unexpected convergence at 16p, a region of long-standing mystery in autism research,” tweeted study investigator Dan Weiner, a graduate student in Elise Robinson’s lab at Harvard University.

The short arm of chromosome 16, which is home to several rare, autism-linked copy number variations, also harbors “the greatest excess of autism’s common polygenic influences,” Weiner and his colleagues found.

Both rare and common variants across 16p “converge on decreased gene expression” in the region, “facilitated by 3D genome architecture,” Weiner wrote. Spectrum covered the study earlier this month.

Functional overlap featured prominently in another study, which “used proteomics to screen 41 autism risk genes, finding convergence between the genes,” tweeted Karun Singh, associate professor of biochemistry and biomedical sciences at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada.

The “impressive” work suggests that “mitochondria are a common feature,” tweeted Julien Courchet, a researcher at Institut NeuroMyoGène in Lyon, France.

More common ground shows up among 10 percent of the genes strongly linked to autism and related conditions: Mutations in these genes disrupt interneuron development, according to a study shared by Sergiu Pasca, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University in California. Spectrum covered the study in November. Pasca and his colleagues used “a bold approach … to map 425 genes on interneuron dev stages” in a preprint.

Aging in autism was another topic of conversation on social media this year. A question at the heart of autism research, says Liz Pellicano, professor of autism research at University College London in the United Kingdom, should be “How can autistic adults thrive?”

Pellicano shared a link to her review paper, co-authored by a team of autistic and non-autistic researchers, proposing that research on autism in adulthood apply a “capabilities approach,” which focuses on 10 core elements of a thriving human life. “This approach enables us to evaluate the opportunities and challenges facing autistic adults, the forces shaping them and the ways in which services and other interventions might enhance the quality of their lives,” the team wrote.

Pellicano’s wasn’t the only new approach for autism researchers touted on Twitter this past year. These next tweets from 2022 introduced several other novel methods.

A new toolbox to contextualize human brain maps, called neuromaps, is akin to a “GoogleMaps for the brain!” tweeted Bratislav Misic, associate professor and Canada research chair of the Network Neuroscience Lab at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. Spectrum covered neuromaps in November.

The Neuropixels probe — a popular tool to record the activity of individual neurons in animal models — can be used safely in people, according to a June paper shared by the Chang Lab at the University of California, San Francisco.

And autism researchers on Twitter also thought the force was strong with the JEDI-2P, a genetically encoded voltage indicator. The protein-based biosensor “addresses a critical need in neuroscience: the noninvasive recording of rapid voltage transients for extended durations and in deep cortical layers,” according to its developers at the St. Pierre Lab at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas.

We’ll end our end-of-year reflection on two threads that asked big questions about the brain.

What is the relationship between language and thought? asked Ev Fedorenko, associate professor of psychiatry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in a thread that led to a long, thought-provoking discussion. The relationship “may be one of the deepest and most exciting questions in cognitive science,” she wrote.

And does the brain’s physical shape contribute to our cognitive power? It may, according to a bioRxiv preprint shared by study investigator James Pang, a research fellow at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, who sought to explain how “the underlying physical geometry of the brain constrains emerging brain dynamics and function.”

That’s it for Spectrum’s roundup of the top autism research tweets of 2022. If some of your own favorites didn’t appear here, share them with us and the community in the comments section.

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter (@Spectrum), Instagram and LinkedIn.

Subscribe to get the best of Spectrum straight to your inbox.