Chapter 8 – The Cause of Autism
About ninety out of every ten thousand persons born in the United States will have a diagnosis of autism before they are three years old. Boys will have a significantly higher chance of contracting these horrible disorders than will girls. The causes of autism have not yet been determined, but researchers at the University of Texas are coming closer than most have . They have found the traits of autism, such as poor social interaction and high sensitivity, in mice. The researchers believe if they can find the cause of the behaviors exhibited in the mice, they will be one step closer to finding the cause of human autism.
What the researchers can do with mice, they cannot do with human subjects. They intend to examine the brain of these autistic mice, and specifically the area of the brain that deals with learning and memory. Though autism affects the ability to communicate and interact with people around you, the researchers feel that the chemical reactions in the brains of the mice will be similar to those who experience autism. Proper communication is a learned behavior and your brain area that has the job of producing memory and learning is supposed to allow you to accept this information. Without the proper neurons or the interaction of chemicals in your brain, the communication process will be lost.
The researchers are focusing on the Pten gene because this gene has the history of being associated with other brain disorders. The similarity of autistic traits within the mice could be associated with the similarity of autism and brain disorders found among humans. The mice studied showed that they were not as curious as other mice in the pen. When a new animal was introduced, the autistic mice showed little interest. The same goes with an autistic child. When a new person enters the home or the classroom, the autistic child will be disinterested while the non-autistic children will show great interest and even try to communicate with the newcomer.
The mice would not build nests, nor would they look after their babies. They would show disinterest in any of the normal goings on of normal mice. The mice seemed disinterested in anything except their primal needs of food, water, and defecation. When exposed to stimuli such as a loud noise or sudden movement like being picked up, the autistic mice would act like an autistic child by overreacting to the stimuli. The mice would scream and refrain from physical stimuli just as most autistic children run from or cover their ears when over stimulated.
The only behaviors that were not in correlation between the mice and human autistics were the repetitive behaviors or the obsessive motions that most human autistic children exhibit. The only other similarities were that the mice had a larger head and larger brain volume than is traditionally a symptom of human autism. Researchers believe that if they can find the gene responsible for the autistic like behaviors in the mice, the quest to find the cause and cure of autism may be one step closer. This research proves that there is hope for autistic sufferers and if not for them, then for the thousands of autistic children that are yet to be born.