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January, 2012

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French Film Criticizes Psychoanalysis for Autism

By Shana R. Spindler, Ph.D. on January 26, 2012

 

Pop News Brief: A French documentary about the use of psychoanalysis and the “talking cure” in the treatment of autism is receiving quite a bit of attention, according to a recent New York Times report. Psychoanalysis is a psychological theory that associates certain mental disturbances with events from childhood. According to the documentary, approximately 80% of mental health professionals in France are trained in psychoanalysis. The documentary suggests that France’s widespread use of psychoanalysis, as opposed to cognitive-behavioral therapies used in the United States, is putting French children with autism at a disadvantage. Three of the psychoanalysts interviewed in the film believe they were misled and have filed a lawsuit asking for monetary damage compensation and removal of their interviews from the documentary, reports the New York Times. A court decision is scheduled for today.

 


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Both Genetics and Environment Important in Autism

By Shana R. Spindler, Ph.D. on January 22, 2012

 

Overview: Autism susceptibility has a significant environmental component, according to a study published in the November issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry.

 

Background: Researchers from across California identified twin pairs with at least one twin having autism spectrum disorder (ASD) to investigate the relative influence of genes versus environment on the development of ASD. In total, the researchers examined 192 pairs of twins, including 54 identical twins and 138 fraternal twins, one of the largest studies of its kind.

 

What's New: The researchers completed a statistical analysis comparing the rate of autism diagnosis for identical versus fraternal pairs. Using their analysis, they estimated that 38 percent of ASD cases are due to genetic factors, and 58 percent are due to environmental factors. However, the study’s findings were not conclusive given that the statistical analysis did not take into account genetic susceptibility to the environment.

 

Why it's important: According to the report’s authors, future studies that examine the association between genetics and environment will likely enhance our understanding of autism.

 


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Genetic Changes More Severe in Girls with ASD

By Shana R. Spindler, Ph.D. on January 19, 2012

 

Overview: Girls require greater genetic changes than boys do to develop the repetitive behaviors associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), report researchers in the January issue of the American Journal of Medical Genetics Part B: Neuropsychiatric Genetics.

 

Background: Fewer females than males are diagnosed with ASD. Researchers hypothesized that girls require larger genetic variations to develop the disorder.  To test their hypothesis, the researchers examined the severity of ASD symptoms in families with and without girls with ASD.

 

What's new: The researchers found that boys with ASD had more repetitive behaviors than girls with ASD, in general, and that boys with female siblings with ASD had more repetitive behaviors than boys without a diagnosed sister.

 

Why it's important: The findings suggest that girls have a higher genetic threshold for developing repetitive behaviors associated with ASD than boys do, and that having a girl with ASD may indicate that the family’s genetic variations are more extensive. The severity of social behaviors was not linked to gender, according to the study.

 


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New DNA Reader May Aid Autism Research

By Shana R. Spindler, Ph.D. on January 13, 2012

 

Pop News Brief: A new DNA reader can sequence an entire genome for $1000—one fifth the cost incurred using competitor machines. For autism, this new technology could quicken the pace of genetic research, make available more diagnostic tools, and provide easier access to individualized treatment. Even with this novel sequencer, however, the limitations of data analysis and current genetic knowledge will likely dictate when and how the machine will be used for autism.

 


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Research on Autism Physiology Increasing

By Shana R. Spindler, Ph.D. on January 11, 2012

 

Overview: A new review published in last month’s issue of Molecular Psychiatry highlights the fact that research efforts to study physiological abnormalities in autism are increasing.

 

Background: The authors of the study completed a literature search of papers published between 1971 and 2010 in four major areas of autism research, including immune system dysregulation, cellular oxidative stress, mitochondrial dysfunction, and environmental toxicant exposures.

 

What's new: The authors found that publication rates for studies that investigate the role of the immune system, cell function, and environmental toxins in the development of autism increased. In contrast, the publication rate for studies examining cellular damage in the brain or theory of mind have slowed or even decreased. Overall, the researchers found that genetic studies still remain the largest segment of autism research.

 


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Autism Risk Higher for Smaller Twin

By Shana R. Spindler, Ph.D. on January 10, 2012

 

Overview: When twins are born at markedly different weights, the smaller of the set is three times more likely to develop autism than his or her sibling, report researchers in the December online issue of Psychological Medicine.

 

Background: Earlier this year, a study using single births found a correlation between low birth weight and increased autism risk. Northwestern University researchers have now studied both identical and fraternal twins to further examine the autism and low birth weight correlation.

 

What's new: In the study, the correlation between lower birth weight and an increased risk of developing autism held true whether the researchers were comparing identical or fraternal twins.

 

Why it's important: The researchers' findings suggest that environmental factors, rather than genetic, are the basis for the birth weight-associated risk difference.

 


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Time Magazine Interviews Aspergirls Author

By Shana R. Spindler, Ph.D. on January 9, 2012

 

Pop News Brief: On December 27, 2011, Time Magazine published an interview with Rudy Simone, author of Aspergirls: Empowering Females with Asperger Syndrome. Simone is a San Francisco singer, writer, and comic who discovered that she had Asperger syndrome in her mid-40s. She wrote Aspergirls after finding a lack of resources for girls and women on the autism spectrum.

 


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Facial Processing Delayed in Children with Autism

By Shana R. Spindler, Ph.D. on January 5, 2012

 

Overview: According to a new study published in the Nov/Dec issue of Child Development, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is associated with developmental delays in facial processing.

 

Background: Researchers from the University of Washington and Seattle Children’s Research Institute compared brain activity in 18- to 47-month-old children with ASD to the brain activity of 12- to 30-month-old typically developing children while the children viewed images of faces.

 

What's new: According to the researchers, the neural response of the children with ASD was similar to the neural response of younger, typically developing children. When the researchers performed a follow-up exam one year later, the children with ASD showed neural responses similar to the children without ASD.

 

Why it's important: This study suggests that children with autism have a developmental delay in facial processing.

 


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Practice Flights for Kids with Autism

By Shana R. Spindler, Ph.D. on January 5, 2012

 

Pop News Brief: For families and children with autism, traveling by way of the airport can be daunting and overwhelming. NPR correspondent, Maiken Scott, writes about how the Philadelphia International Airport hosts a program that helps families and children with autism learn how to navigate air travel. In the program, families spend a day at the airport, where they practice obtaining tickets, going through security, walking to the plane, and yes, even boarding the aircraft—airplane snacks included.

 


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Rhode Island Plans Comprehensive Autism Registry

By Shana R. Spindler, Ph.D. on January 5, 2012

 

Pop News Brief: Rhode Island researchers hope to capture data from all Rhode Island individuals with autism in a single statewide registry, organized by the Rhode Island Consortium for Autism Research and Treatment (RI-CART). In 2009, a group of scientists formed the consortium with an aim to improve the efficiency of data sharing within the state. Given Rhode Island’s small size, the group is hopeful that all people with autism within the state’s borders will be entered into the registry.

 


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Strategy to Treat Angelman Syndrome Tested

By Shana R. Spindler, Ph.D. on January 4, 2012

 

Overview: In a recent issue of Nature, researchers report a therapeutic strategy to treat Angelman syndrome, a developmental disorder related to autism.

 

Background: Angelman syndrome is caused by a defective version of the UBE3A protein, which helps tag other proteins for elimination from the cell. Individuals get one paternal and one maternal copy of the UBE3A gene, but through a process known as imprinting, only the maternal copy is expressed. Normally, even if the maternal copy of the gene is nonfunctional, the paternal UBE3A remains silent.

 

What's new: Researchers recently identified a drug, called Topotecan, that allows cells to express the paternal copy of UBE3A by inhibiting part of the cellular machinery that winds and unwinds DNA. After injecting very small amounts of Topotecan into the brains of Angelman syndrome mouse models, the researchers found that neurons from various areas of the brain began making the UBE3A protein from the paternal copy of the gene.

 

Why it's important: Topotecan is a promising therapeutic strategy for treating Angelman syndrome, suggest the authors. However, the researchers also stress the importance of additional studies to investigate the off-target affects of the drug.

 


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