Glia Pathology in Autism
East Tennessee State University
It is inherently difficult to devise targeted treatment for autism when little is known about how the brain is different in individuals with autism versus neurotypical individuals. The development of better treatments for autism will be facilitated greatly by the identification of precise molecular pathology of the human brain in individuals with autism. Several previous studies of individuals with autism have shown that there is reduced activity in a specific brain region called the anterior cingulate cortex, an area of the brain that regulates social interaction. This area of the brain has a complex circuitry that involves among others, two principal cellular players, glial cells and pyramidal neurons. Glial cells are often considered to be helper cells to neurons. However, many recent advances have shown that several brain disorders are characterized by pathology of glia, and numerous studies demonstrate that glia play a major role in the transmission of information between neurons in the brain. This study will examine a specific type of glia, astrocytes, in the anterior cingulate cortex. The investigators believe that circuitry dysfunction in the anterior cingulate cortex may underlie disruption of social interactions, a core feature of autism. Since astrocytes play a major role in regulating neurotransmission in the cortex, and because there is evidence of deficits in astrocyte markers in autism, the specific hypothesis of this proposal is that glial dysfunction in autism directly contributes to altered neurotransmission in anterior cingulate cortex. This pilot study measures the levels of expression several genes that will provide an index of neurotransmission in the anterior cortex. Gene expression in two distinct cell types in the brain will be studied using a high technology method of laser capture microdissection along with traditional molecular biological techniques. The research represents a novel exploration of non-neuronal elements (i.e., astrocytes) of neural transmission in autism, and has the potential to facilitate the identification of new specific molecular pathologies. Knowledge of these pathologies will contribute directly or indirectly to the development of novel and improved treatments for autism.