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Autism is one of the problems humanity is confronting with which still puzzles scientists but now they found a neurotransmitter defect connected to autism.
Although many children are born with autism and scientists have been trying to develop treatments for this condition, it has proven quite difficult. The reason for this is that the exact cause of the condition is still unknown. So, how could you repair something if you don’t know what’s broken?
Recently, a team of scientists from Harvard University have managed to find a missing piece of the puzzle, which they believe could indicate the reason people develop this condition. It looks like a neurotransmitter is directly linked to autistic behavior which could ease the processes of diagnosis, treatment or even prevention.
What causes autism
The researchers studied and made a comparison between the brains of people with autism and people who didn’t have a history of this condition and realized that an inhibitory neurotransmitter could be the cause of autism. The neurotransmitter is called GABA and its role is to filter the signals received by the brain, helping the person to focus on certain tasks. The GABA neurotransmitter doesn’t work as it should in people with autism. Scientists have found some deficiencies which could explain the inability to focus that people with autism have.
Although this particular neurotransmitter has been studied before, but only in animals and now it is the first time, scientists managed to link it to autistic behavior in humans. What made them look into this GABA neurotransmitter is that autism is described as a condition in which all sensory inputs happen at once. So it made sense that an inhibitory would be fit for observation.
How scientists conducted the study
The study involved showing two different pictures to each of the subject’s eyes. This process is called binocular rivalry and what happens is that for a short period of time on of the images is completely suppressed and you can only see the other one. At one point, the neurons dealing with the inhibitory signals get tired and a switch happens that lets you see the other image. For an average person, the switch between the two images will happen every three seconds. For an autistic person, the switch will happen in twice the time.
Although this finding could indeed be helpful in diagnosing an autistic patient, it is quite difficult to control a GABA neurotransmitter, so we can’t talk about treatment yet. However, diagnosing an infant before he or she starts speaking is still a big step forward.
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