A newly discovered neurotransmitting mechanism may offer some insight on autism. Neuroscientists traced autism to a faulty neural pathway. Thus they were able to establish a link between autism and a specific neurotransmitter.
The research endeavor has been conducted by a team of neuroscientists from the Harvard University. What the team has uncovered could ultimately prove to essential to the early and correct diagnosis of children suffering from autism spectrum disorder.
Doctor Caroline Robertson, the lead researcher of this study stated that the project was aimed to ascertain how a person suffering from autism perceives and interprets visual information. All of her team’s conclusions were noted down and published in the Current Biology Journal.
In order to retrace the problem, the doctor and her team performed a visual test on several study participants. As explained by Robertson, the team would show to each a participant a series of two images and then proceed on measuring how long it takes them to switch between the two pictures.
To explain the nature of the experiment, Robertson chose two random images: one depicting a horse and one depicting an apple. She explains that when displaying the image of the horse and then the image of the apple, the image depicting the horse will disappear from sight.
After a few session, the neurons capable of inhibiting the signal coming from the eyes will eventually get tired of refocusing the same two images and will begin rocking back and forth the image. According to their measurements, a healthy person’s average response rate was 3. Hence, it takes our brain merely two seconds in order to switch between two sets of images.
Now, this is the part where it all gets tricky. The doctor and her team have discovered that an autistic person spends twice the amount of time to switch between the two images. Moreover, they have determined that they are incapable of completely suppressing the second image.
Using this experiment regarding the use of visual information, the team of scientists has traced the issue to specific neural pathway used by GABA neurotransmitters. According to their findings, it would seem that in people suffering from autistic spectrum disorder there is a faulty connection somewhere along the pathway.
A GABA pathway breakdown would explain various other symptoms displayed by patients suffering from autism spectrum disorder such as seizures. The team is confident that they will be able to make use of their results in order to develop new methods of screening in young children.