Autism: a gene reduces the effects of the hormone oxytocin

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Science

Researchers at the University of Basel have demonstrated a link between a gene involved in autism and oxytocin. The discovery helped restore normal social behavior in mice.

The University of Basel team found that a mutation in the “neuroligin 3” gene disrupts the oxytocin signaling pathway in the brain’s reward system. (Illustrative photo)

KEYSTONE

Basel researchers have discovered a link between a genetic mutation reducing the effects of oxytocin on the brain and autism. They managed to restore normal social behavior in mice, according to this work published in the journal Nature.

Peter Scheiffele’s team, at the Biozentrum at the University of Basel, looked at the “neuroligin 3” gene, a mutation of which is known to be involved in autism spectrum disorders. Researchers have discovered a link between this gene and oxytocin, also known as the happiness hormone, involved in love, trust and social connections.

They found that the mutation in question disrupts the oxytocin signaling pathway in the reward system of the brain of mice. Protein production in neurons was out of balance, and social interactions in rodents reduced as a result.

“Puzzle of the mechanism of autism”

“That mutations directly influence the oxytocin signaling pathway has greatly surprised us; we have succeeded in assembling two pieces of the puzzle of the mechanism of autism ”, indicates Pr Scheiffele, quoted Wednesday in a press release from the alma mater of Basel.

Scientists have also shown that the thing is reversible. By giving the mice a protein synthesis inhibitor, they were able to normalize their behavior. Rodents reacted differently again depending on whether their congeners were known or not, for example.

This research sheds more light on the complex causes of autistic disorders while providing new therapeutic avenues, underlines the University of Basel. Autism affects around 1% of the population. Hundreds of different genes are involved and the correlations remain unclear.

(ATS / NXP)

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