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posted by janrinok on Tuesday September 02 2014, @10:06PM   Printer-friendly
from the seek-and-ye-shall-find dept.

Autism Support Network reports

As a baby's brain develops, there is an explosion of synapses, the connections that allow neurons to send and receive signals. But during childhood and adolescence, the brain needs to start pruning those synapses, limiting their number so different brain areas can develop specific functions and are not overloaded with stimuli.

Now a new study suggests that in children with autism, something in the process goes awry, leaving an oversupply of synapses in at least some parts of the brain.


The study, published [August 21] in the journal Neuron, involved tissue from the brains of children and adolescents who had died from ages 2 to 20. About half had autism; the others did not.

The researchers, from Columbia University Medical Center, looked closely at an area of the brain's temporal lobe involved in social behavior and communication. Analyzing tissue from 20 of the brains, they counted spines -- the tiny neuron protrusions that receive signals via synapses -- and found more spines in children with autism.

The scientists found that at younger ages, the number of spines did not differ tremendously between the two groups of children, but adolescents with autism had significantly more than those without autism. Typical 19-year-olds had 41 percent fewer synapses than toddlers, but those in their late teenage years with autism had only 16 percent fewer than young children with autism.

The original article is behind NYT's paywall.

Related Stories

Colleges Consider "Trigger Warnings" in Curriculum 55 comments

Raw Story summarizes a New York Times report that Colleges across the country this spring have been wrestling with student requests for what are known as "trigger warnings," explicit alerts that the material they are about to read or see in a classroom might upset them or, as some students assert, cause symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in victims of rape or in war veterans.

The debate has left many academics fuming, saying that professors should be trusted to use common sense and that being provocative is part of their mandate. Trigger warnings, they say, suggest a certain fragility of mind that higher learning is meant to challenge, not embrace. "Any kind of blanket trigger policy is inimical to academic freedom," said Lisa Hajjar, a sociology professor, who often uses graphic depictions of torture in her courses about war. "Any student can request some sort of individual accommodation, but to say we need some kind of one-size-fits-all approach is totally wrong. The presumption there is that students should not be forced to deal with something that makes them uncomfortable is absurd or even dangerous."

Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, said, "It is only going to get harder to teach people that there is a real important and serious value to being offended. Part of that is talking about deadly serious and uncomfortable subjects."

A summary of the College Literature, along with the appropriate trigger warnings, assumed or suggested in the article is as follows: Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice" (anti-Semitism), Virginia Woolf's "Mrs. Dalloway" (suicide), "The Great Gatsby" (misogynistic violence), and "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" (racism).

Note: The Raw Story link was provided to provide an alternative to the article source, the New York Times, due to user complaints about the NYT website paywalling their articles.

NYT paywall by Anonymous Coward
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  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by SlimmPickens on Tuesday September 02 2014, @10:12PM

    by SlimmPickens (1056) on Tuesday September 02 2014, @10:12PM (#88674)

    I remember seeing a video about an autistic savant who was very good at math. He equated numbers with physical attributes. He looked at a very tall building and said "It's very seven"

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 03 2014, @08:16AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 03 2014, @08:16AM (#88811)

      That's the thing is it cause or effect? Or kind of both... Maybe the brains of autistic people find some things a lot more interesting than normals do and so those synapses don't get trimmed.

      There's at least one autistic person who feels as if her legs are on fire, ants crawling up her arms etc: []

    • (Score: 2) by tathra on Wednesday September 03 2014, @08:37AM

      by tathra (3367) on Wednesday September 03 2014, @08:37AM (#88817)

      thats just a type of synesthesia, [] which is basically just crossed wiring in the brain (connections that shouldnt really exist, like colors linked to shapes, or numbers link to tastes). its not really anything specific to autism, but going by this article autistics would be more likely to be synesthates (or maybe this means autism is a type of synesthesia? i'm not sure how synesthesia could result in an inability to interpret social signals though).

    • (Score: 2, Interesting) by sea on Wednesday September 03 2014, @11:54AM

      by sea (86) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday September 03 2014, @11:54AM (#88849) Homepage Journal

      I'm always fascinated by this sort of thing.

      Is it possible that somehow his brain independently discovered some fundamental property of the number seven that relates it with that particular building, or 'tallness' in general?

      We know that mathematics has surprising and incredibly intimate connections with the rest of the world, though we don't know why, and we haven't even discovered one tiny iota of those connections. For all we know, the concept of 'tallness' may in all seriousness be embodied in some sense by the number 7, or at least strongly related to it.

  • (Score: 3, Insightful) by Theophrastus on Tuesday September 02 2014, @10:26PM

    by Theophrastus (4044) on Tuesday September 02 2014, @10:26PM (#88675)

    Someone in this comment section will likely suggest that by this situation alone, excess synapses, may we be sure that autism represents either an improved brain or on the path towards it. They should try to consider what unchecked numbers of blood-vessels, or bone, or any specific cell-line does to the organism (hint: none of them become X-men, or women). In a complex multicellular organism, more of one thing is almost never better.

    "But these are brain structures we're talking about here!" yes yes... but in terms of more-ness glial cells [] might be more to the point, but especially connections between brain regions, not just more synapses overall, or more dendrites, or more axons. more sophisticated higher organizations is what you might be hoping for, not just more units.

    • (Score: 3, Informative) by SlimmPickens on Tuesday September 02 2014, @10:39PM

      by SlimmPickens (1056) on Tuesday September 02 2014, @10:39PM (#88679)

      That wikipedia about Einstenis brain is interestnig but the one about glial cells [] is more interestnig.

  • (Score: 1, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 02 2014, @10:40PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 02 2014, @10:40PM (#88680)

    And the reason for this is ..... ?? Right..

    Maybe people with Autism's brain is not allowed to work due to external factors, like toxins produced in their intestines. []

    And for you non-Canadians, sadly not much available of that episode, [] [] []

    We are seeing more and more long term problems associated with overuse of antibiotics. Allergies (food, asthma, etc.), autism and probably plenty of others. Maybe cessation of oral antibiotics, unless for some specific GI infections, would be the most important step forward to eliminating most of the antibiotic related problems. This includes overuse of antibiotics.

    When I was a kid, the doctor would not prescribe oral antics (80s, Poland). He always said "it's known how this affects young kids and their developing gut flora and effects on kids futures". So he always gave me shots if something looked suspicious (or parents worried too much). Now I'm old enough and smart enough to understand this was one smart doctor.

    From TFA,

    In addition to analyzing the human brains, the Columbia team studied mice they programmed to develop tuberous sclerosis complex, a rare genetic disease that is often accompanied by autism.

    Rare implies not related to Autism epidemic. It also implies that the neuronal changes in Autism are a symptom, not cause of the disease.

    • (Score: 2) by Magic Oddball on Wednesday September 03 2014, @06:33AM

      by Magic Oddball (3847) on Wednesday September 03 2014, @06:33AM (#88783) Journal

      There actually *isn't* an "autism epidemic." Much of the increase in classic autism diagnoses was mirrored by a decrease in diagnoses of things like non-specific pervasive developmental disorder, and took place during the time period that California (the state typically used for these numbers) repeatedly broadened its definition of autism.

      In addition to that, awareness in the public & professionals increased dramatically as more people knew someone with a diagnosed child, leading them to be better-positioned to recognize the traits in undiagnosed autistics. Also, the severe stigma associated with the condition lessened, making more parents willing to accept it, and crucially, far more doctors willing to diagnose it rather than a less-stigmatized alternative.

      During that same time period and beyond it, geeks on the spectrum (but undiagnosed) from around the country relocated to California and reproduced with one another, leading to a child with a very high chance of inheriting at least some of the genes.

      As a parallel, I've recently noticed quite a few people claim that there's an "epidemic" of gay individuals going on. If one looks only at the numbers over the last 30 years, obviously it does look that way as more and more gay people 'came out' -- but when the context is taken into account, it becomes clear that people like them were part of society all along without others knowing them.

  • (Score: 3, Informative) by randmcnatt on Tuesday September 02 2014, @10:49PM

    by randmcnatt (671) on Tuesday September 02 2014, @10:49PM (#88684)
    There's a another good article on Autism Speaks [] and the original reports [][PDF] are available online [].
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