Disrupted Development

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Science  18 Apr 2014:
Vol. 344, Issue 6181, pp. 236
DOI: 10.1126/science.344.6181.236-d

Socioemotional difficulties and abnormal overgrowth of the brain are apparent early in childhood for those with autism. Although the brain overgrowth has resolved by adulthood, the difficulties remain. Stoner et al. analyzed the expression of a variety of genes that relate to the identification of neuron and glial subtypes, as well as a handful of genes linked to autism in postmortem samples of brains from unaffected children and children with autism. Multiple readouts were assembled computationally to reconstruct the three-dimensional pattern of gene expression. Samples from children with autism showed small patches, 5 to 7 mm in length, in which the expression of several genes was abnormally reduced. The expression of genes related to excitatory neurons was most affected in these patches, genes related to interneurons less so, and genes related to glia even less affected. No one subset of genes or specific locations characterized all the samples. Neurons were present, however, in patches of reduced gene expression. The diversity in locations of the disrupted patches may reflect the diversity in how autism affects children, so that, depending on where a disruption happened to land, different brain functions could be affected.

N. Engl. J. Med. 370, 1209 (2014).

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