Brain wave oscillations and autism

Children with autism process sounds a tiny bit slower than typically developing children. Moreover, gamma oscillations, the very fast waves of activity in the brain, are also out of sync in both autism and schizophrenia. A new study reports similar findings in a mouse model with other autistic features. As discussed in Chap. 9 of the book, in this model of an environmental risk factor for autism, pregnant mice (or rats) are given a medication that is used for epilepsy and depression, valproic acid. The offspring display many behavioral abnormalities found in autism, and they are now also found to exhibit irregularities in gamma oscillations. In addition, a medication that improves symptoms in mouse models of the autism-like fragile X disorder (Chap. 9), MPEP, also normalizes some of the behaviors and brain wave patterns in offspring of mice given valproic acid during pregnancy (Gandal et al., Biol Psychiatry 68:1100, ’10). These cross-correlations between human studies and several, quite different mouse models strengthen the hypothesis that animal models based on genetic as well as environmental risk factors have validity, and can be used to test potential medications and investigate possible biomarkers of mental disorders. Seaside Therapeutics, in Cambridge Mass., is set to begin clinical testing of MPEP in fragile X patients in early 2012. Another medication that quells symptoms in fragile X mice, STX209 (or arbaclofen), which alters neurotransmitter balance (as does MPEP), is now being tested in a double blind clinical trial of patients with fragile X. In an open label study on children with autism, Seaside reported last fall that STX209 diminishes social withdrawal, irritability and tantrums.

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