Dividing autism; novel messengers; million-dollar mark and more

A researcher proposes splitting autism into subtypes, mitochondria make neurotransmitters, and highly successful grantees may face a funding cap.

By Emily Willingham
11 May 2018 | 3 min read
This article is more than five years old.
Neuroscience—and science in general—is constantly evolving, so older articles may contain information or theories that have been reevaluated since their original publication date.
  • Autism researcher Simon Baron-Cohen argues for splitting the autism diagnosis into subtypes in a 4 May op-ed in Scientific American. He proposes a naming system similar to that used for diabetes, with ‘type 1’ and ‘type 2’ forms of autism retained under “the single umbrella category called the autism spectrum.” He suggests that people on the spectrum could “transition freely” among subtypes if their development warranted it.

    According to Baron-Cohen, the inclusion of subtypes would speed up scientific discovery about the causes of autism and hasten our understanding of which interventions work best for each person on the spectrum.

  • Researchers have revealed a version of nerve-cell signaling that relies on mitochondria. In classic nerve-cell communication, the cell ejects signaling molecules called neurotransmitters from a storage sac called a vesicle. Mitochondria, in turn, are best known for packaging ATP for cellular energy.

    But newly identified oversized mitochondria can sidle up to signaling proteins in the cell membrane and dump their ATP. This ATP then passes through gates in the proteins and acts as a neurotransmitter, researchers reported 8 May in Science Signaling.

  • If you’re a neuroscience researcher with a lot of funding, don’t expect the U.S. National Institutes of Health to add to your lab’s coffers. Labs with more than $1 million in grants from the agency are less likely to get additional funds, Science reported 2 May. The tactic is intended to make space for early-career investigators or those whose applications were just edged out of being funded.
  • If you have ever served as an anonymous reviewer, you might find this service appealing: The American Psychological Association has partnered with the peer-review platform Publons to recognize peer reviewers for the association’s 30 core journals. Reviewers can click a button to store their reviews in the system, ensuring a record of their service that they can use in promotion and funding applications.

    So far, the option has proved popular: More than 1,800 reviewers have already added 6,000 records, Clarivate Analytics, Publons’ parent company, wrote in a 1 May statement.

  • The prefrontal cortex, a brain area involved in self-control and attention, is of interest in autism. Monkeys have been a go-to animal model for evaluating genetic effects in this region. Monkey models might need some recalibration in such studies, however: The human prefrontal cortex has almost twice the gray matter and 2.4 times the white matter as the same region in macaques, researchers reported 8 May in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
  • Sex and number of autism features are tied to how a person visually assesses an object while mentally rotating it, according to an eye-tracking study published 4 May in Autism Research. Women with many autism features tend to look at the top and bottom corners of an angular structure made of a series of cubes during a mental rotation task, whereas men with a similar number of autism features look equally at all corners of the structure. People with fewer autism features tend to look only at the top corners of the structure.
  • Scientists seeking to identify DNA or protein sequences they have uncovered often use an online tool called BLAST, which matches them to known sequences. But not all sequences make it from a published study to the public database. PaperBLAST offers a way to find these unseen sequences by scouring the full text of published studies for mentions of proteins and genes, researchers reported 5 May in mSystems.
  • Do you have a new paper coming out? Are you making a career move? Did you see a study or news story that you want to share? Send your news tips to [email protected].