Workshop plumbs infancy for autism signs

infancy workshopWhat are the earliest signs of autism? Do signs differ between genetically defined autism subtypes? What are cognitive milestones of early development for all children? Is there a way to study these aspects in animal models of autism?

These and other questions surfaced throughout a SFARI-sponsored workshop entitled “Next Steps in Infancy Research on Autism,” held on April 18, 2019. The workshop brought together 12 experts, including those who study child development but not autism, as well as clinicians, geneticists and epidemiologists. The ensuing conversations — part research updates, part brainstorms — touched on measurable aspects of infant development that might be sensitive enough, reliable enough and easy enough to use to help detect, parse and model autism.

Read this story at SFARI.org.

A conversation with Dan Feldman

FeldmanDan Feldman, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, studies the rodent somatosensory cortex, which is famous for its organized groupings of neurons, called ”barrels.” There, his lab has been testing an influential idea about autism: the excitatory-inhibitory (E-I) imbalance hypothesis. This proposes that an excess of excitatory signaling relative to inhibitory signaling in the brain leads to symptoms of autism.

In a recent paper, Feldman’s lab found evidence for the E-I imbalance hypothesis, but not exactly in the way many expected: the changes appeared to reflect a compensation for some other problem in the circuit, rather than a primary deficit causing circuit hyperexcitability. I recently spoke with Feldman to discuss these findings and what they might mean for therapeutic approaches aimed at restoring inhibition in autism.

Read this story at SFARI.org.

Digitally tracking cognitive decline

digital-tracking-cognitive-declinePinpointing where healthy brain aging leaves off and dementia begins is difficult. Is a slip in memory an expected outcome for a too-busy person or a warning of something else? If an empty-nester loses the motivation to cook, is it a sign that the person is enjoying retirement after a lifetime spent cooking or an early sign of a cognitive decline?

Now, experts are now turning to computerized tools to detect dementia in earlier stages. Early detection might bring more successful clinical trials for treatments, which, by and large, have failed for full-blown dementia; at the very least, early detection helps people prepare for what is to come.

Read this story at IEEE Pulse.

Committing to memory

committing-to-memoryCell phone chimes, sticky notes, even the proverbial string around a finger—these external cues help guard against inevitable memory lapses. But internal help to the brain itself may be on the way in the form of  memory prosthetics. Once considered to be on the fringes of neuroscience, the idea of adding hardware to the brain to help with memory is gathering steam.

Read this story at IEEE Pulse.