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University of Basel Scientists Make Progress In Reversing Autism


University of Basel Scientists Make Progress In Reversing Autism

Autistic patients suffer from an extensive disorder that impairs the development of the brain. This disorder becomes evident in the early childhood. A research team led by Peter Scheiffele and Kaspar Vogt have discovered that autism causes a specific dysfunction of the neuronal circuits. The team also reports success in the process of reversing this dysfunction. The main authors of the study are professors at the University of Basel.


Current estimates show that almost 1% of all children develop an autistic disorder. Rigid behavior patterns, impaired social behavior and limited speech development are a few of the symptoms that have been seen in autistic patients. Autism is a hereditary developmental disorder that appears in the first 3 years of life, and affects the brain’s normal development of social and communication skills. The main risk factors for the onset of this condition are genetic mutations discovered in more than 300 genes, including the gene called neroligin-3. This gene has an important role in the formation of synapses, which are passage ways for electrical or chemical signals between neurons. Thus, the loss of neuroligin-3 can interfere with inter-neuronal signaling.

The research team has studied the consequences of the loss of the neuroligin-3 gene in mice. These mice developed behavioral patterns that have been observed patients suffering from autism. In collaboration with Roche, the research team managed to identify the defect of the signal transmission mechanism that interferes with the plasticity of the neuronal circuits. The negative effects of this defect are correlated with an increase in the numbers of glutamate receptors, which are the receptors that are responsible for neuronal signaling modulation. The excess of glutamate receptors inhibits the adaptation of synaptic signaling transmission that occurs during the learning process and thus disrupts the development of the brain.

The researchers found out that this developmental inhibition is reversible, thus making this a study of great importance. Researchers were able to reactivate the production of the neuroligin-3 gene in laboratory mice. This resulted in a decrease in the number of glutamate receptors due to inhibiting their production. Furthermore, this also reduced the structural defects that were caused by autism, resulting in the disappearance of autism. Therefore, these receptors might be a possible target for future pharmacological drugs that would stop or even reverse the development of autism.

Autism is currently a disorder that doesn’t have a cure. However, the symptoms of the disorder can be lightened through behavioral therapy. However, this new study reveals a new possible treatment for autism. Work on glutamate receptor antagonists is done through a collaboration between researchers from the Basel University and Roche.