Korean researchers have successfully investigated the causes and hereditary factors for autistic behavior and proposed a new treatment method with fewer side effects.
This research was jointly supported by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology and the National Research Foundation as part of the Leading Researcher and Science Research Center Program
The research findings were publishing in the June edition of Nature magazine and will also be introduced in the July edition of Nature Reviews Drug Discovery, under the title ‘Autistic-like social behavior in Shank2-mutant mice improved by restoring NMDA receptor function’.
The research team found that lack of Shank2 genes in mice, which are responsible for the production of synapse proteins, caused autistic-like behavior. The results strongly suggested that the Shank2 gene was linked to autistic behavior and that Shank2 deficiency induced autistic behaviors.
Autism is a neural development disorder characterized by impaired social interaction, repetitive behavior, mental retardation, anxiety and hyperactivity. Around 100 million people worldwide display symptoms of autistic behavior. Recent studies conducted by the University of Washington revealed that 1 out of 3 young adults who display autistic behavior do not fit into the workplace or get accepted to college, a much higher rate than any other disorder. However, an effective cure has not yet been developed and current treatments are limited to reducing repetitive behavior.
The research team confirmed autistic-like social behavior in mice without the Shank2 genes and that the mice had decreased levels of neurotransmission in the NMDA receptor. The mice also showed damaged synaptic plasticity* in the hippocampus**.
* Plasticity: ability of the connectionbetween two neurons to change in strength in response to transmission of information
**Hippocampus: part of the brain responsible for short-term and long-term memory as well as spatial navigation.
The research team also found out that, to restore the function of the NMDA receptor, the passive stimulation of certain receptors, such as the mGLuR5, yielded better treatment results than the direct stimulation of the NMDA. This greatly reduces the side effects associated with the direct stimulation of receptors, resulting in a more effective treatment method.
This research successfully investigated the function of the Shank2 gene in the nerve tissue and showed how the reduced function of the NMDA receptor, due to the lack of the gene, resulted in autistic behavior. It also provided new possibilities for the treatment of autistic behavior and impaired social interaction