Mysteries of Autism

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Neuroscientist Kevin Pelphrey has decided to study autism and it’s origins at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. As of now, there is no well developed idea on why exactly certain people are on this spectrum. Scientists have decided there is no single reason that could be an outright cause or trigger of autism, rather it appears to be far more complex and individualized.

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Researchers are looking closely at genetics and how different traits of parents could influence autism, like age or premature birth. Pelphrey believes autism begins prior to infancy. To look into this claim he is investigating early brains, still in uteruses, to find differences between those that develop autism, and those that don’t. He is pursuing new brain-imaging techniques to possibly develop autism biomarkers, which could revolutionize how the disease is cared for/treated. A specific one is called a functional near-infrared spectroscopy, which scans light through oxygen exposed blood to look into brain activity.

It looks somewhat like a headband and examines the blood flow specifically in the frontal cortex. This technique is much smaller than an MRI, and though it is less precise, its convenience and availability could be a great method of brain imaging. Pelphrey and other scientists believe if autism is detected in an early fetus stage they could change the trajectory of the brains development, avoiding a life on the spectrum for those individuals. Because this genetic disorder holds so much complexity, there are many more questions scientists like Pelphrey and many others have to research. However, new theories, like Kevin Pelphrey’s, are the beginning of discovering where autism is coming from and how to prevent it. I am really interested in the fields of neurology and psychology. A particular part of this article interested me most; stating that for every girl diagnosed about four boys are diagnosed with autism. Looking further into this, it appeared in an experiment that females had more harmful mutations in their DNA. In the large group of people with autism, the females had double the amount of large deletions of gaps in their DNA sequencing.

This means that females are more resilient to reaching the disease stage when it comes to genetic disorders like autism because they need more missing or wrong DNA patterns than males. Some scientists guess this is because females have two X chromosomes, instead, of an X and Y. The females ultimately have a set of “backup” DNA if there are issues with one of these chromosomes. However, this idea is simply a hypothesis, not an established theory. I was very intrigued when I read this because, as a female, I could possibly have an issue with one of my X chromosomes that is masked by the other one. Also, it would be extremely beneficial to develop testing for the probability of producing a child with autism before having kids. Though the helpful research on autism and where it comes from is scarce, the technological advances occurring will hopefully expedite the research to treat autism in the future.

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