Studies Expand Understanding of Social Behavior
Research points to possible therapeutic targets for autism spectrum disorder
CHICAGO — Research released today uncovers the neural mechanisms driving social behavior, suggesting possible new approaches to diagnosing and treating autism spectrum disorder, Rett syndrome, and anxiety disorders. 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.
The prevalence of autism spectrum disorders is increasing; in the United States, currently 1 in 68 children are affected. Children with autism have deficits in social interaction and communication, but treatments that improve social behavior have not yet been identified. Other diseases that are related to autism and also involve social behavioral problems, such as Fragile X syndrome and Rett syndrome, lack promising treatments as well.
Today’s new findings show that:
- A protein implicated in autism is required for the proper pruning of synaptic connections in mice, identifying a possible target to correct the excessive connections seen in the disease (Chia-Wei Chang, abstract 392.08, see attached summary).
- A molecule that mimics the action of a key protein in the brain improves synaptic plasticity and locomotion in a mouse model of Rett syndrome (Lucas Pozzo-Miller, abstract 586.03, see attached summary).
- The brain makes quick assessments of the emotion and approachability of crowds, and people with anxiety exhibit differences in their reactions. The finding may help the development of behavioral diagnostics for mental health issues (Hee Yeon Im, abstract 564.10, see attached summary).
“The findings released today expand our understanding of the neurobiology of social behavior,” said press conference moderator Sue Carter, PhD, of Indiana University, an expert in social bonding and behavior. “Uncovering these mechanisms will drive the creation of better therapies for disorders like autism.”
This research was supported by national funding agencies such as the National Institutes of Health, as well as other private and philanthropic organizations. Find out more about social behavior and the brain at BrainFacts.org.