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Concept: Neural development


Synaesthesia is a neurodevelopmental condition in which a sensation in one modality triggers a perception in a second modality. Autism (shorthand for Autism Spectrum Conditions) is a neurodevelopmental condition involving social-communication disability alongside resistance to change and unusually narrow interests or activities. Whilst on the surface they appear distinct, they have been suggested to share common atypical neural connectivity.

Concepts: Nervous system, Autism, Pervasive developmental disorder, Asperger syndrome, Autism spectrum, PDD-NOS, Neural development, Neurodevelopmental disorder


BACKGROUND: Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are relatively common neurodevelopmental conditions whose biological basis has been incompletely determined. Several biochemical markers have been associated with ASDs, but there is still no laboratory test for these conditions. METHODS: We analyzed the metabolic profile of lymphoblastoid cell lines from 137 patients with neurodevelopmental disorders with or without ASDs and 78 normal individuals, using Biolog Phenotype MicroArrays. RESULTS: Metabolic profiling of lymphoblastoid cells revealed that the 87 patients with ASD as a clinical feature, as compared to the 78 controls, exhibited on average reduced generation of NADH when tryptophan was the sole energy source. The results correlated with the behavioral traits associated with either syndromal or non-syndromal autism, independent of the genetic background of the individual. The low level of NADH generation in the presence of tryptophan was not observed in cell lines from non-ASD patients with intellectual disability, schizophrenia or conditions exhibiting several similarities with syndromal autism except for the behavioral traits. Analysis of a previous small gene expression study found abnormal levels for some genes involved in tryptophan metabolic pathways in 10 patients. CONCLUSIONS: Tryptophan is a precursor of important compounds, such as serotonin, quinolinic acid, and kynurenic acid, which are involved in neurodevelopment and synaptogenesis. In addition, quinolinic acid is the structural precursor of NAD+, a critical energy carrier in mitochondria. Also, the serotonin branch of the tryptophan metabolic pathway generates NADH. Lastly, the levels of quinolinic and kynurenic acid are strongly influenced by the activity of the immune system. Therefore, decreased tryptophan metabolism may alter brain development, neuroimmune activity and mitochondrial function. Our finding of decreased tryptophan metabolism appears to provide a unifying biochemical basis for ASDs and perhaps an initial step in the development of a diagnostic assay for ASDs.

Concepts: Bacteria, Metabolism, Adenosine triphosphate, Enzyme, Organism, Mitochondrion, Autism, Neural development


BACKGROUND: Understanding the genetic basis of diseases is key to the development of better diagnoses and treatments. Unfortunately, only a small fraction of the existing data linking genes to phenotypes is available through online public resources and, when available, it is scattered across multiple access tools.Description: Neurocarta is a knowledgebase that consolidates information on genes and phenotypes across multiple resources and allows tracking and exploring of the associations. The system enables automatic and manual curation of evidence supporting each association, as well as user-enabled entry of their own annotations. Phenotypes are recorded using controlled vocabularies such as the Disease Ontology to facilitate computational inference and linking to external data sources. The gene-to-phenotype associations are filtered by stringent criteria to focus on the annotations most likely to be relevant. Neurocarta is constantly growing and currently holds more than 30,000 lines of evidence linking over 7,000 genes to 2,000 different phenotypes. CONCLUSIONS: Neurocarta is a one-stop shop for researchers looking for candidate genes for any disorder of interest. In Neurocarta, they can review the evidence linking genes to phenotypes and filter out the evidence they’re not interested in. In addition, researchers can enter their own annotations from their experiments and analyze them in the context of existing public annotations. Neurocarta’s in-depth annotation of neurodevelopmental disorders makes it a unique resource for neuroscientists working on brain development.

Concepts: Nervous system, Gene, Neuroscience, Autism, Controlled vocabulary, Neural development, Neurodevelopmental disorder, Developmental neuroscience


Bisphenol A (BPA), a ubiquitous endocrine disruptor that is present in many household products, has been linked to obesity, cancer, and, most relevant here, childhood neurological disorders such as anxiety and hyperactivity. However, how BPA exposure translates into these neurodevelopmental disorders remains poorly understood. Here, we used zebrafish to link BPA mechanistically to disease etiology. Strikingly, treatment of embryonic zebrafish with very low-dose BPA (0.0068 μM, 1,000-fold lower than the accepted human daily exposure) and bisphenol S (BPS), a common analog used in BPA-free products, resulted in 180% and 240% increases, respectively, in neuronal birth (neurogenesis) within the hypothalamus, a highly conserved brain region involved in hyperactivity. Furthermore, restricted BPA/BPS exposure specifically during the neurogenic window caused later hyperactive behaviors in zebrafish larvae. Unexpectedly, we show that BPA-mediated precocious neurogenesis and the concomitant behavioral phenotype were not dependent on predicted estrogen receptors but relied on androgen receptor-mediated up-regulation of aromatase. Although human epidemiological results are still emerging, an association between high maternal urinary BPA during gestation and hyperactivity and other behavioral disturbances in the child has been suggested. Our studies here provide mechanistic support that the neurogenic period indeed may be a window of vulnerability and uncovers previously unexplored avenues of research into how endocrine disruptors might perturb early brain development. Furthermore, our results show that BPA-free products are not necessarily safer and support the removal of all bisphenols from consumer merchandise.

Concepts: Central nervous system, Nervous system, Psychology, Estrogen, Bisphenol A, Endocrine system, Endocrine disruptor, Neural development


Advanced paternal age (APA) at conception has been linked with autism and schizophrenia in offspring, neurodevelopmental disorders that affect social functioning. The current study explored the effects of paternal age on social development in the general population.

Concepts: Sociology, Autism, Bipolar disorder, Neural development, Neurodevelopmental disorder


Prenatal folic acid supplements reduce the risk of neural tube defects in children, but it has not been determined whether they protect against other neurodevelopmental disorders.

Concepts: Autism, Pervasive developmental disorder, Folic acid, Asperger syndrome, Autism spectrum, Neural tube defect, Neural development, Neurodevelopmental disorder


The development of neural connectivity is essential for brain function, and disruption of this process is associated with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). DIX domain containing 1 (DIXDC1) has previously been implicated in neurodevelopmental disorders, but its role in postnatal brain function remains unknown. Using a knockout mouse model, we determined that DIXDC1 is a regulator of excitatory neuron dendrite development and synapse function in the cortex. We discovered that MARK1, previously linked to ASDs, phosphorylates DIXDC1 to regulate dendrite and spine development through modulation of the cytoskeletal network in an isoform-specific manner. Finally, rare missense variants in DIXDC1 were identified in ASD patient cohorts via genetic sequencing. Interestingly, the variants inhibit DIXDC1 isoform 1 phosphorylation, causing impairment to dendrite and spine growth. These data reveal that DIXDC1 is a regulator of cortical dendrite and synaptic development and provide mechanistic insight into morphological defects associated with neurodevelopmental disorders.

Concepts: Nervous system, Neuron, Autism, Axon, Synapse, Dendrite, Neural development, Neurodevelopmental disorder


Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are neurodevelopmental conditions characterized by social and behavioural impairments. In addition to neurological symptoms, ASD subjects frequently suffer from gastrointestinal abnormalities, thus implying a role of the gut microbiota in ASD gastrointestinal pathophysiology.

Concepts: Gut flora, Autism, Pervasive developmental disorder, Asperger syndrome, Autism spectrum, PDD-NOS, Neural development, Neurodevelopmental disorder


The current generation of adolescents grows up in a media-saturated world. However, it is unclear how media influences the maturational trajectories of brain regions involved in social interactions. Here we review the neural development in adolescence and show how neuroscience can provide a deeper understanding of developmental sensitivities related to adolescents' media use. We argue that adolescents are highly sensitive to acceptance and rejection through social media, and that their heightened emotional sensitivity and protracted development of reflective processing and cognitive control may make them specifically reactive to emotion-arousing media. This review illustrates how neuroscience may help understand the mutual influence of media and peers on adolescents' well-being and opinion formation.

Concepts: Nervous system, Psychology, Developmental biology, Sensitivity and specificity, Neuroscience, Adolescence, Developmental psychology, Neural development


Using a novel, fMRI-based inter-subject functional correlation (ISFC) approach, which isolates stimulus-locked inter-regional correlation patterns, we compared the cortical topology of the neural circuit for face processing in participants with an impairment in face recognition, congenital prosopagnosia (CP), and matched controls. Whereas the anterior temporal lobe served as the major network hub for face processing in controls, this was not the case for the CPs. Instead, this group evinced hyper-connectivity in posterior regions of the visual cortex, mostly associated with the lateral occipital and the inferior temporal cortices. Moreover, the extent of this hyper-connectivity was correlated with the face recognition deficit. These results offer new insights into the perturbed cortical topology in CP, which may serve as the underlying neural basis of the behavioral deficits typical of this disorder. The approach adopted here has the potential to uncover altered topologies in other neurodevelopmental disorders, as well.

Concepts: Nervous system, Cerebral cortex, Temporal lobe, Cerebrum, Face perception, Prosopagnosia, Lobe, Neural development