Scientists at Duke-NUS Medical School (Duke-NUS) and the National Neuroscience Institute (NNI), Singapore, have identified a novel mechanism that potentially links abnormal brain development to the cause of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs). This new knowledge will help to improve the diagnosis and development of therapeutic interventions for ASDs.
ASDs are a group of inheritable behavioural disorders. They often significantly challenge an individual’s ability to conduct daily activities and function normally in society. Currently there are very few medication options that effectively treat ASDs.
In the study, published today in the journal eLife, co-senior authors Assistant Professor Shawn Je from Duke-NUS and Assistant Professor Zeng Li from NNI have shown how miR-128, a brain-specific microRNA, plays a key role in causing brain size changes in people with ASDs. Although it was known that miR-128 is misregulated in some patients with autism, what that meant and how it functioned was not known.
“For the first time, we have managed to show that miR-128 is a mechanism that regulates early neuronal behaviour during brain development,” said Asst Prof Je, from the Neuroscience and Behavioural Disorders (NBD) Programme at Duke-NUS. “Targeting this mechanism may be the answer to diagnose and treat ASDs that are caused by abnormal brain development.”
Asst Prof Li, from the Neural Stem Cells Laboratory at NNI, added, “This important study suggests a link between a key neurological disease gene and regulation of microRNAs in the brain. However, we are just starting to understand how misregulated miR-128 expression can cause our brain activities to go wrong, and much more work needs to be done.”