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Children and adolescents with autism have a surplus of synapses in the brain, and this excess is due to a slowdown in a normal brain “pruning” process during development, according to a study by neuroscientists at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC). Because synapses are the points where neurons connect and communicate with each other, the excessive synapses may have profound effects on how the brain functions. The study was published in the August 21 online issue of the journal Neuron.
Guomei Tang, Kathryn Gudsnuk, Sheng-Han Kuo, Marisa L. Cotrina, Gorazd Rosoklija, Alexander Sosunov, Mark S. Sonders, Ellen Kanter, Candace Castagna, Ai Yamamoto, Zhenyu Yue, Ottavio Arancio, Bradley S. Peterson, Frances Champagne, Andrew J. Dwork, James Goldman, David Sulzer. Loss of mTOR-Dependent Macroautophagy Causes Autistic-like Synaptic Pruning Deficits. Neuron, 2014; DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2014.07.040
In a study of brains from children with autism, researchers found that autistic brains did not undergo normal pruning during childhood and adolescence. The images show representative neurons from autistic (left) and control (right) brains; the spines on the neurons indicate the location of synapses. Credit: Guomei Tang, PhD and Mark S. Sonders, PhD/Columbia University Medical Center