One of the most common worries parents of children suffering from Autism is the thought of whether the children can live independently in the future. For a long time, I was extremely worried for my daughter, who has been diagnosed to be slightly autistic, and I have been trying to put in more intervention. She is also one of the main driving force behind CuraHOPE. That is why today’s news which we first saw on NextShark about a potential cause for Autism being identified was one I resonated deeply with, both personally and emotionally.
A potential cause for Autism might have been discovered by a Korean couple
Autism is a medical condition which has puzzled scientists and researchers for decades, as they have been unable to identify exactly what contributes to Autism or why someone so social earlier in his/her childhood years can grow less social in the future.
A Korean-American couple, Harvard Medical School faculty member Jun-ryeol Huh and his wife, Gloria Choi might have cracked that code through their experiments on mice. Understand that this is really preliminary research, but this is a step in helping to understand why and how Autism occurs.
The Harvard faculty member and his wife, an Assistant Professor at MIT reported that some strains of bacteria found in the digestive tract of the mother mice might lead to behaviors which resemble Autism such as repetitive behavior and a lack of sociability. The research findings were also published by the science journal “Nature” on September 14, 2017.
The science behind the cause
And now, we are going to go into slightly more technical elaboration of their findings. In a 2016 article published in “Science”, the researchers found that some parts of the brain which they labeled “patches” affected the development of certain autistic behaviors. The effector molecule (scientifically known as a small molecule which regulates the biological activity of a protein by binding itself to them) IL-17 which comes from a specific type of immune cell known as Th-17 cell apparently is released when the mother is trying to fight off infection, causing inflammation in the body through the process.
Reversal of Autistic behaviors in mice
One interesting observation that was highlighted was the fact that Autistic behaviors were reversed when researchers restored balance in the part of the brain known as S1DZ, which are where the “patches” reside. Even more amazing is the fact that Autistic behaviors were restored when neurons were overstimulated.
What is the caveat of the research?
The caveat of the research is that inflammation which can happen during pregnancy is just one of the factors affecting the development of Autism and cannot explain all cases. Looking at the role of the effector molecules, the researchers concluded that a form of bacteria, known as segmented filamentous bacteria is a good indicator of “patches” being built up in the brain, causing behavioral abnormalities. When researchers eliminated the bacteria with antibiotics, normal behaviors were observed from the offsprings of the mice.
Does this mean that we can now prevent Autism in newborns?
Sadly, we are still a long long way from coming up with concrete observations about whether Th17 cell-inducing bacteria can lead to inflammation which can cause Autistic behaviors in humans. After all, the experiments are carried out in mice and the human body is extremely complex, individual from individual. Regardless, this is a good step in the right direction for understanding the condition known as Autism.