Research Shows Early Brain Changes Precede Neurological Disorders
Studies reveal altered brain networks in very young subjects
CHICAGO — Research released today provides new insights about the earliest brain changes associated with a variety of neurological disorders, including autism spectrum disorder and disabilities following pre-term birth. The studies reveal abnormalities in brain circuitry that are established even before symptoms arise. The findings were presented at Neuroscience 2015, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience and the world’s largest source of emerging news about brain science and health.
Some of the neurological diseases and disorders that are most challenging to understand are those that trace back to infancy or the period before birth, the most critical times in human development. Connections between brain regions that form in utero are emerging as important determinants of later brain function.
Today’s new findings show that:
- Cortisol level in mothers’ milk is linked to social and cognitive development in monkeys (Amanda Dettmer, abstract 468.08, see attached summary).
- Structural and functional connectivity between brain areas is weaker in babies born prematurely (Cynthia Rogers, abstract 349.08, see attached summary).
- Motor impairments linked to preterm birth may stem from brain connectivity abnormalities present before birth (Moriah Thomason, abstract 252.01, see attached summary).
- Some cases of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have been linked to an antibody found in the maternal bloodstream. Injecting the antibody into pregnant mice leads to brain abnormalities and ASD-like symptoms in male offspring (Lior Brimberg, abstract 655.01, see attached summary).
- Children who will develop Huntington’s disease as adults show weak connections between disease-related brain areas (Jessica Lee, abstract 42.03, see attached summary).
“These studies illustrate how the brain’s structural and functional architecture is exquisitely sensitive to conditions before birth and how alterations to brain circuitry can set the scene for future neurologic impairment long before it arises,” said Jay Giedd, MD, University of California, San Diego, an expert on the developing brain. “These new discoveries could one day help lessen the burden of early-life neurologic abnormalities.”
This research was supported by national funding agencies such as the National Institutes of Health, as well as private and philanthropic organizations. Find out more about brain development and neurological disorders at BrainFacts.org.