Neuroscientists reverse autism symptoms

Turning on a gene later in life can restore typical behavior in mice.

Anne Trafton | MIT News Office
February 17, 2016

Autism has diverse genetic causes, most of which are still unknown. About 1 percent of people with autism are missing a gene called Shank3, which is critical for brain development. Without this gene, individuals develop typical autism symptoms including repetitive behavior and avoidance of social interactions.

researchIn a study of mice, MIT researchers have now shown that they can reverse some of those behavioral symptoms by turning the gene back on later in life, allowing the brain to properly rewire itself.

This suggests that even in the adult brain we have profound plasticity to some degree, says Guoping Feng, an MIT professor of brain and cognitive sciences. There is more and more evidence showing that some of the defects are indeed reversible, giving hope that we can develop treatment for autistic patients in the future.

Feng, who is the James W. and Patricia Poitras Professor of Neuroscience and a member of MITs McGovern Institute for Brain Research and the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research at the Broad Institute, is the senior author of the study, which appears in the Feb. 17 issue of Nature. The papers lead authors are former MIT graduate student Yuan Mei and former Broad Institute visiting graduate student Patricia Monteiro, now at the University of Coimbra in Portugal.

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