Genetic hotspot; big brain collaboration; funding fall and more

A gene called TRIO may be a hotbed for autism mutations, an international collaboration focuses on the whole brain and one behavior, and Autism Speaks cuts grant spending.

By Emily Willingham
22 September 2017 | 4 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.
  • The hunt for DNA hotspots associated with autism may be heating up. Researchers comparing genetic sequences between people with and without autism have found eight autism-linked mutations clustered in a gene called TRIO. TRIO’s primary role is to regulate connections among neurons in the brain. The findings were published 19 September in Nature Communications.

    The TRIO protein interacts with RAC1, which has already been implicated in animal models of autism. Mutations in TRIO yield a protein that either over- or underperforms, at least in cultured rat neurons. The result is that neurons interact too much or too little with each other.

  • The International Brain Lab, a virtual collaboration of 21 research groups, launched on 19 September. The goal of the collaboration is to study the whole brain as it relates to a single behavior. The investigators will begin by focusing on foraging behavior in mice, Nature News reported.
  • A public affairs officer at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a gag order to all staff. Employees must route all interactions with reporters, even “the most basic of data requests,” through the headquarters’ communications office. Journalists view the edict as “really disturbing,” Columbia Journalism Review reported on 13 September.
  • Younger siblings of children with autism are less likely than their brothers and sisters with the condition to be vaccinated, according to a research letter published 14 September in the New England Journal of Medicine. There was no difference in vaccination rates between children with and without autism, however.

    Autism in an older child also affected rates of vaccine reaction reports from parents. Parents of children with autism are more likely than those with neurotypical children to report adverse vaccine reactions in their child with autism. They are also more likely to report vaccine reactions in their unaffected children who have older siblings on the spectrum. These retrospective reports include fever, unusual crying and diarrhea.

  • The advocacy organization Autism Speaks is cutting grant funding in the wake of an 18 percent drop in revenue in 2016. The total decrease in revenue was about $10.5 million, leading to grant-spending cuts of about $1.8 million and a similar decrease in payroll outlay, Disability Scoop reported on 14 September.
  • The proportion of children with autism in the United Kingdom who are being excluded from school is on the rise. Autism charities have called the 36.4 percent increase in permanent school exclusions “incredibly troubling.” They say the figure is probably an underestimate, as school exclusion is illegal, HuffPost United Kingdom reported 15 September.
  • Negative interactions between police and people with autism are “terrifyingly common” and often the result of misunderstanding, “Neurotribes” author Steve Silberman writes in a 19 September New York Times op-ed. Silberman details several frightening examples of such encounters and calls for better autism education among law enforcement officers to reduce escalations.

    One example Silberman gives involves a 14-year-old boy with autism named Connor, who encountered a policeman while waiting for his caregiver in a neighborhood park. The caregiver later realized that the policeman had mistaken Connor’s repeated sniffing of a piece of yarn for “drug intoxication.”

  • If you ask children with disabilities what the worst aspects of their lives are, you might get some unexpected answers. A Canadian rehabilitation hospital asked just that question as part of a public relations campaign. The children’s responses focused most on problems with stigma and how people react to and interact with them, HuffPost Canada reported 13 September.

    The children’s quoted responses include, “Whispering is rarely as discreet as you think it is,” and “If someone communicates differently than you, still say, ‘Hi.’”

  • After a successful trial of a parent-based autism intervention in India, the health organization Sangath is planning its next step. The organization plans to use two major grants to evaluate how successfully frontline healthcare workers deliver the intervention in the state of Madhya Pradesh, the Hindustan Times reported 14 September.
  • The BBC children’s channel CBeebies and the Irish children’s channel RTEjr. are rolling out a new series about characters with autism. Other shows on CBeebies have included characters on the spectrum, but in the new animated series “Pablo,” people with autism voice all of the core characters. The show’s website also features 12 film shorts giving different perspectives from people on the spectrum, the BBC said in a statement on 14 September.
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