Mechanism that links autism to abnormal brain development identified, microRNA responsible
Duke-National University of Singapore (Duke-NUS) and the National Neuroscience Institute (NNI) of Singapore scientists have identified a mechanism that potentially causes autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). MicroRNA (miR-128), a brain-specific gene that regulates expression in the human body, was found to cause abnormal brain development linked to ASDs.
“For the first time, we have managed to show that miR-128 is a mechanism that regulates early neuronal behaviour during brain development,” said author Assistant Professor Shawn Je Hyunsoo, from the Neuroscience and Behavioural Disorders Programme at Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School, Singapore. “Targeting this mechanism may be the answer to diagnose and treat ASDs that are caused by abnormal brain development.”
Normal division of neural progenitor cells (NPCs) is crucial for optimal foetal brain development. However, in ASDs the researchers found that miR-128 interfered with the normal division of NPC by suppressing pericentriolar material 1 (PCM1) protein. This impairs brain development and alters brain size in people with ASD. [eLife 2016; doi:10.7554/eLife.11324]
“This important study is a key link between neurological disease gene and regulation of microRNAs in the brain. However, we are just starting to understand how misregulated miR-128 expression can cause our brain activity to go wrong,” said study co-author Assistant Professor Li Zeng, Neural Stem Research Lab at NNI, Singapore.
ASDs are a group of developmental disabilities that cause significant social, communication and behavioural challenges. Individuals have socialisation and communication difficulties. They also display repetitive patterns of behaviour, interests or activities. ASDs include autism, Asperger's syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified.