Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a relatively common developmental disorder of communication and behavior that affects about one in 59 children in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Ga. Despite its prevalence, the causes of the disease and treatment options remain unclear.
Researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, La Jolla, Calif., compared stem cells created from individuals with ASD against stem cells created from those without ASD to uncover, for the first time, measurable differences in the patterns and speed of development in the ASD-derived cells.
"Although our work only examined cells in cultures, it may help us understand how early changes in gene expression could lead to altered brain development in individuals with ASD," says Rusty Gage, the study's senior author and Salk president. 'We hope that this work will open up new ways to study neuropsychiatric and neurodevelopmental disorders."
By using molecular "snapshots" from different developmental stages in the stem cells, the team was able to track genetic programs that switched on in a certain order as the stem cells developed into neurons. This revealed key differences in the cells derived from people with ASD. For instance, the team observed that the genetic program associated with the neural stem-cell stage turned on earlier in the ASD cells than it did in the cells from...