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Illustration by Laurène Boglio

Community Newsletter: Suicide in autism; neural cell isolation; analysis of autism genes

Discussion on social media revolved around a meta-analysis of suicidality in autism, a method to purify neural stem and progenitor cells, and autism-linked genes in zebrafish.

Autistic people have an increased risk of suicide, according to a meta-analysis published 15 March in Molecular Autism that garnered much attention from researchers on Twitter this week.

The team, led by Victoria Newell of the University of Nottingham, pooled data from 36 studies involving a total of 48,186 autistic and possibly autistic participants. It found that about 34 percent had thought about suicide, and roughly 22 percent and 24 percent had planned or attempted suicide, respectively.

“Very important work confirming that suicidality is highly prevalent in both autistic and possibly autistic people,” tweeted Myrofora Kakoulidou of King’s College London.

“Sadly not unexpected findings. Autistic people have been telling us this for years…” tweeted Lucy Livingston also of King’s College London.

The work “shows how much more we need to do in suicide prevention,” tweeted Chris Edwards of the Aspect Research Centre for Autism Practice.

“Our team has been working to examine #suicide screening among autistic adolescents, to improve detection and support,” tweeted Kate Wallis of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Another study getting researchers’ attention describes a method for isolating 10 distinct neural stem and progenitor cell types from the developing human brain.

In a thread chronicling the work, published 16 March in Cell, Daniel Dan Liu of Stanford University highlighted the cell-surface markers his team used to purify each cell type.

“My hope is that this study provides a framework for studying the cellular basis of human brain development,” he tweeted.

“This will become a landmark paper for the field,” tweeted Yi Zhou of the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine.

Sattar Khoshkhoo of Brigham and Women’s Hospital called the paper a “very useful resource for studying stem cell populations in the brain.”

“Excellent work and exciting findings about glial progenitor cells!” tweeted Xiaoyun Ding of Baylor College of Medicine.

Lastly, Ellen Hoffman of Yale University tweeted out her team’s paper, published 16 March in Cell Reports, which gives a “functional analysis of 10 autism risk genes in zebrafish.”

Spectrum highlighted Hoffman’s work in zebrafish at Neuroscience 2022.

Loss-of-function mutations in the 10 genes affect the zebrafish’s brain and behavior in distinct yet overlapping ways. For example, the team discovered that the forebrain contributes the most to brain size differences across the genes, a “super exciting” finding, according to Emre Yaksi of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

“Amazing and so interesting to see some neuroimmune links,” tweeted Gilles Vanwalleghem of Aarhus University.

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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If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, help is available. Here is a worldwide directory of resources and hotlines that you can call for support.