Scientists discover starting point for drug treatment of autism
Swiss researchers from the University of Basel discover a starting point for the treatment of autism. So far, the developmental disorder was not curable, but in experiments with mice, the scientists led by Peter Scheiffele from the Biozentrum of the University of Basel were able to prove not only that the failure of a specific gene has a significant impact on the development of autism, but also that the impairments are reversible .
"A number of rare mutations are associated with autism," report the researchers led by Peter Scheiffele in the scientific journal "Science". One of them is the failure of the neuroligin-3 gene, which contributes to the production of a protein of the same name. Autism-typical behavior patterns have been shown in genetically manipulated mice that have had the neuroligin-3 gene removed, the Swiss researchers write. This is due to a defect in the signal transmission between the brain cells, which affects the function and adaptability of the brain circuits. However, the findings not only serve to investigate the causes but may also offer a starting point for the medicinal treatment of autism.
Glutamate receptor responsible for brain development disorder The researchers at the University of Basel switched off the neuroligin-3 gene in the mice as part of their study and then checked the development of the synapses in the rodent's brain. Here they found typical autism patterns. These negative effects on the animals' brains are due to the increased production of a specific glutamate receptor, which plays an important role in the signal transmission between the brain cells, reports Scheiffele and colleagues. An overproduction of the glutamate docking point prevents the adaptation of the brain circuits during learning processes and thus permanently disrupts the normal development and function of the brain. In the mice, however, the malfunction or overproduction of the glutamate receptor was reversible. As soon as the scientists reactivated the gene and the formation of the neuroligin-3 protein in the mice, the nerve cells also produced fewer glutamate docking sites, which led to normalization of the brain circuits or the disappearance of the structural defects typical of autism in the brain.
Medicinal autism therapy possible? Here, the researchers also see a starting point for medicinal autism therapy. The experts at the Biozentrum of the University of Basel report that the glutamate receptor could be a possible pharmacological target. By influencing the glutamate docking point, autism can also be stopped or even reversed in humans. This would be a groundbreaking advance in the treatment of autism, because up to now the developmental disorder has not been curable, but the symptoms can only be alleviated using complex pedagogical and therapeutic methods. In this way, those affected mostly remain permanently impaired in their social behavior and have difficulty finding their way around the world on their own. If the two Basel research groups that are currently working on the project funded by the European Union (EU-AIMS) are successful, a therapeutic substance could soon be developed that contributes to the inhibition or blocking of the glutamate receptors and thus the autism- Counteracts symptoms. Until then, however, some research work needs to be done to use the discovered pharmacological target for autism therapy. (fp)
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