All different and yet the same: searching for biological similarities between individuals with autism

“If you know one child with autism,” the saying goes, “you know one child with autism.” Though an estimated 1 in 68 children in the United States will be diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), their diverse personalities seem to defy categorization. Yet, dating back to the first report on ASD by Austrian-American psychiatrist Leo Kanner, clinicians have identified clear themes in the children’s behavior. Researchers have long struggled to pinpoint the common biological pathway underlying these behavioral commonalities seen in ASD. A study published last year by Silvia De Rubeis and her colleagues took advantage of rare risk variants to find molecular commonalities that underlie the behavioral traits that link autism spectrum disorders together. 

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No accounting for taste? Giant sloths, ancient pumpkins, and evolutionary genetics in bitter taste receptors.

No accounting for taste? Giant sloths, ancient pumpkins, and evolutionary genetics in bitter taste receptors.

Though domesticated pumpkins and other gourds (think zucchinis, acorn squashes, butternut squashes), are edible (and tasty!), their wild cousins produce a toxic bitter compound, rendering them poisonous to humans, even in small amounts. Anyone who has ever picked a pumpkin and hauled it home might be wondering…why on earth would a plant produce fruit weighing more-than-some-dogs that no one can eat?

Well, its turns out there's an answer. And it involves some Jurassic Park level science (but better, because it's real). Read on, fellow nerds…

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How the immune system helps build your brain

How the immune system helps build your brain

Pregnant women who are hospitalized for infections, including the flu, have a slightly higher risk for giving birth to a child with a neurodevelopmental disorder like autism. What's going on? Is the immune system influencing the developing brain? 

Spoilers: yes. And it all starts when immune cells (microglia) are lured into the brain by the siren call of neural progenitor cells. 

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RNA Circles In Your Brain: Noise or a New Class of Genetic Regulators?

RNA Circles In Your Brain: Noise or a New Class of Genetic Regulators?

Molecular biology is still defined by its "central dogma," but we often don’t use the word dogma in science unless we are about to contradict it. Here, Nick Kramer tells us about how circular RNAs, a newly discovered, highly conserved class of RNA molecules, are abundant in the brain and may contribute to its development.

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New in Neuroscience: How twitching in your sleep helps your brain develop

New in Neuroscience: How twitching in your sleep helps your brain develop

Have you ever seen a puppy or infant twitching at night and wondered if he/she was having a nightmare? As worrisome as they may be, these sleep twitches, termed “myoclonic twitches”, are not exclusive to our bad dreams. In fact, many species exhibit these twitches, and an increasing amount of evidence suggests that they may play a more important role during development than occasionally disturbing our sleep.

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New in Neuroscience: Microglia in your brain put their trust in your gut

New in Neuroscience: Microglia in your brain put their trust in your gut

Ancient humans often referred to the “bowels” as the seat of emotional experience. We now attribute higher functions such as thought and emotion exclusively to our brains, but the idea that what’s going on in your gut may control your instincts may actually have some biological credibility.

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