24 mars 2006

The Role Of Evolutionary Genomics In The Development Of Autism

Science Daily — Scientists at the London School of Economics, UK and Simon Fraser University, Canada have described the first hypothesis grounded in evolutionary genomics explaining the development of autism.

In an article to be published in a forthcoming issue of Journal of Evolutionary Biology, Dr Christopher Badcock and Professor Bernard Crespi explore the 'imprinted brain hypothesis' to explain the cause and effect of autism and autistic syndromes such as Asperger's syndrome, highlighted by the book The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which involves selective disruption of social behaviour that makes individuals more self-focussed whilst enhancing skills related to mechanistic cognition.

The 'imprinted brain hypothesis' suggests that competition between maternally and paternally expressed genes leads to conflicts within the autistic individual which could result in an imbalance in the brain's development. This is supported by the fact that there is known to be a strong genomic imprinting component to the genetic and developmental mechanisms of autism and autistic syndromes.

Professor Bernard Crespi from Simon Fraser University, Canada explains: "The imprinted brain hypothesis underscores the viewpoint that the autism spectrum represents human cognitive diversity rather than simply disorder or disability. Indeed, individuals at the highest-functioning end of this spectrum may have driven the development of science, engineering and the arts through mechanistic brilliance coupled with perseverant obsession."

The core behavioural features of autism such as self-focussed behaviour, altered social interactions and language and enhanced spatial and mechanistic cognition and abilities -- as well as the degree to which the brain functions and structures are altered -- also supports this hypothesis.

Read or download the article for FREE: http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1420-9101.2006.01091.x.

Note: This story has been adapted from a news release issued by Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

22 mars 2006

Innovative Approach Affords Researchers Clearer View Of Autism

Science Daily — Using new technology and a unique approach, Binghamton University researchers are hoping to help children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) deal with their most common and problematic areas of deficit - social and life skills.

Raymond Romancyzk, director of Binghamton University's Institute for Child Development, is heading up an intensive research project to learn how children - with and without autism - interact with the world around them. Using a combination of a state-of-the-art eye tracking system, miniaturized psychophysiological monitoring and multiple computers for high-speed processing, Romancyzk and his team are able to ask questions that could help answer how individuals with autism process information and stimuli from the world around them.

The team is using a tracking system that doesn't require the subject to wear a tracking device. Instead a video camera, built into a small desk observes a child. First, reference points are established by having the child watch a short animation, and with the help of a computer, the system overlays the position of a child's eyes onto a second video image of the child's field of vision. While the tracking systems observes the child's face, the eyes are located in the video image and computers record further eye movement.

This allows the team to see where and for exactly how long and where the child is looking, such as at faces, objects, and actions, either live or on video, and permits measurement of an index of physiological anxiety, and the more standard measurement of affect, performance, and behavior. The fact that children don't have any physical contact with the eye tracking system and don't have to wear any special apparatus makes it a great tool even with very young children, whether they have autism or not.

Gathering data from "typical' children will help researchers better distinguish where the differences between non-autistic children and children with autism. The new technology is enabling researchers to ask questions that may have far-reaching implications for educational and clinical approaches for autism.

"Part of the reason for this elaborate scheme is we've also been doing some research on how adults interact with children with autism, how they perceive what they think is going on versus what the child is actually doing," said Romanczyk. "This ties into the subtleties of social interaction that we take for granted. You look at someone and you can tell by their body posture, their gestures, tone of voice, eye gaze and so on, what's being communicated. With children with autism, it's more difficult to do."

The Binghamton University laboratory is the first to achieve simultaneous non-invasive measurement of multiple variables within the full range of individuals with ASD. To support their on-going research efforts, Romancyzk's team recently received funding through the Organization for Autism Research. One aspect of this grant will be to develop a parent-administered assessment of the child's social deficits. The assessment will be validated with the more comprehensive laboratory assessment process, and specific treatment strategies tailored to each child with severe social interaction deficits will be developed based upon the parental and comprehensive laboratory assessments.

Note: This story has been adapted from a news release issued by Binghamton University.