(Natural News) Studies have shown that developing children gain more neurons in their brain’s amygdala – the region that regulates emotions and controls social behavior – as they grow older. However, researchers at the UC Davis MIND Institute found that this phenomenon does not happen in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and instead appear to lose the neurons as they become adults.
The amygdala is the region of the brain that regulates emotions and governs social behavior and interaction. It develops rapidly through childhood and adolescence, as the individual becomes more socially and emotionally mature.
“Any deviation from this normal path of development can profoundly influence human behavior,” said senior author Cynthia Schumann, an associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the UC Davis MIND Institute.
Issues concerning the amygdala are associated with various neurodevelopmental and psychiatric disorders, such as ASD, depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.
The research team studied 52 postmortem human brains, both neurotypical and ASD, ranging from two to 48 years of age, to analyze the cellular factors that contribute to the development of the amygdala. They found that the number of neurons in the amygdala increased by more than 30 percent from childhood to adulthood in typically developing individuals, whereas children with ASD were found to have more neurons in their amygdala at this stage, which decreased as they got older.
“We don’t know if having too many amygdala neurons early in development in ASD is related to the apparent loss later on,” said Schumann. “It’s possible that having too many neurons early on could contribute to anxiety and challenges with social interactions. However, with time, that constant activity could wear on the system and lead to neuron loss.”
The researchers believe that understanding how the cells change in the amygdala throughout adolescence may create opportunities to develop treatments for symptoms of anxiety that develop in individuals with ASD and other neurodevelopmental and psychiatric disorders.
The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
Facts and myths about ASD
Misconceptions and negative perceptions about ASD often make it difficult for individuals with this disorder to get the right support they need. This often leads to isolation, and even abuse and bullying. Autism.org.sg shares a list of some of the common myths and corresponding facts about ASD.
- MYTH: Individuals with ASD avoid social interaction. FACT: People with ASD are open to making friends like other people, but may find it difficult to initiate interaction or to respond to it.
- MYTH: People with ASD can’t lead independent and successful lives. FACT: With proper and well-structured education, students with ASD can become successful contributors to society.
- MYTH: Individuals with ASD can’t talk. FACT: People with ASD can develop speech like everyone else, but they often need help in communicating with their peers.
- MYTH: ASD can be outgrown. FACT. ASD can’t be outgrown, but the symptoms can be lessened with the appropriate interventions.
- MYTH: Individuals with ASD have special talents. FACT: It is estimated that 10 percent of individuals with ASD may be especially gifted in areas such as music, arts, and math. The majority of ASD patients may have areas of high performance that relate to their specific interests.
Another fact about ASD is that there have been cases of children reportedly developing ASD symptoms after they were administered vaccines, particularly the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine. The most popular case reported was that of Irish American actor Aidan Quinn who came forward and spoke out about how his daughter, Ava, developed nonverbal autism after receiving an MMR shot, stating that she was a typically developing child before the vaccination. (Related: The MMR vaccine, autism connection.)
Head over to Brain.news to learn more about brain development and related disorders.