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Concept: Neurodevelopmental disorder

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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

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Cerebral folate deficiency (CFD) syndrome is a neurodevelopmental disorder typically caused by folate receptor autoantibodies (FRAs) that interfere with folate transport across the blood-brain barrier. Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) and improvements in ASD symptoms with leucovorin (folinic acid) treatment have been reported in some children with CFD. In children with ASD, the prevalence of FRAs and the response to leucovorin in FRA-positive children has not been systematically investigated. In this study, serum FRA concentrations were measured in 93 children with ASD and a high prevalence (75.3%) of FRAs was found. In 16 children, the concentration of blocking FRA significantly correlated with cerebrospinal fluid 5-methyltetrahydrofolate concentrations, which were below the normative mean in every case. Children with FRAs were treated with oral leucovorin calcium (2 mg kg(-1) per day; maximum 50 mg per day). Treatment response was measured and compared with a wait-list control group. Compared with controls, significantly higher improvement ratings were observed in treated children over a mean period of 4 months in verbal communication, receptive and expressive language, attention and stereotypical behavior. Approximately one-third of treated children demonstrated moderate to much improvement. The incidence of adverse effects was low. This study suggests that FRAs may be important in ASD and that FRA-positive children with ASD may benefit from leucovorin calcium treatment. Given these results, empirical treatment with leucovorin calcium may be a reasonable and non-invasive approach in FRA-positive children with ASD. Additional studies of folate receptor autoimmunity and leucovorin calcium treatment in children with ASD are warranted.

Concepts: Autism, Folic acid, Asperger syndrome, Autism spectrum, Neurodevelopmental disorder, Pyrimethamine, Folinic acid, Folates

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Maternal infections during pregnancy are associated with risk of neurodevelopmental disorders, including autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). Proposed pathogenetic mechanisms include fetal infection, placental inflammation, and maternal cytokines or antibodies that cross the placenta. The Autism Birth Cohort comprises mothers, fathers, and offspring recruited in Norway in 1999 to 2008. Through questionnaire screening, referrals, and linkages to a national patient registry, 442 mothers of children with ASD were identified, and 464 frequency-matched controls were selected. Immunoglobulin G (IgG) antibodies to Toxoplasma gondii, rubella virus, cytomegalovirus (CMV), herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1), and HSV-2 in plasma collected at midpregnancy and after delivery were measured by multiplexed immunoassays. High levels of HSV-2 IgG antibodies in maternal midpregnancy plasma were associated with increased risk of ASD in male offspring (an increase in HSV-2 IgG levels from 240 to 640 arbitrary units/ml was associated with an odds ratio of 2.07; 95% confidence interval, 1.06 to 4.06; P = 0.03) when adjusted for parity and child’s birth year. No association was found between ASD and the presence of IgG antibodies to Toxoplasma gondii, rubella virus, CMV, or HSV-1. Additional studies are needed to test for replicability of risk and specificity of the sex effect and to examine risk associated with other infections. IMPORTANCE The cause (or causes) of most cases of autism spectrum disorder is unknown. Evidence from epidemiological studies and work in animal models of neurodevelopmental disorders suggest that both genetic and environmental factors may be implicated. The latter include gestational infection and immune activation. In our cohort, high levels of antibodies to herpes simplex virus 2 at midpregnancy were associated with an elevated risk of autism spectrum disorder in male offspring. These findings provide support for the hypothesis that gestational infection may contribute to the pathogenesis of autism spectrum disorder and have the potential to drive new efforts to monitor women more closely for cryptic gestational infection and to implement suppressive therapy during pregnancy.

Concepts: Immune system, Childbirth, Virus, Herpesviridae, Herpes simplex, Autism, Autism spectrum, Neurodevelopmental disorder

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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

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Large-scale cohort-based whole exome sequencing of individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders (NDDs) has identified numerous novel candidate disease genes; however, detailed phenotypic information is often lacking in such studies. De novo mutations in pogo transposable element with zinc finger domain (POGZ) have been identified in six independent and diverse cohorts of individuals with NDDs ranging from autism spectrum disorder to developmental delay.

Concepts: Gene, Mutation, Evolution, Autism, Asperger syndrome, Autism spectrum, Neurodevelopmental disorder, De novo

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BACKGROUND: Autism and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are complex neurodevelopmental disorders. Susceptibility is believed to be the interaction of genetic heritability and environmental factors. The synchronous rises in autism/ASD prevalence and paracetamol (acetaminophen) use, as well as biologic plausibility have led to the hypothesis that paracetamol exposure may increase autism/ASD risk. METHODS: To explore the relationship of antenatal paracetamol exposure to ASD, population weighted average autism prevalence rates and paracetamol usage rates were compared. To explore the relationship of early neonatal paracetamol exposure to autism/ASD, population weighted average male autism prevalence rates for all available countries and U.S. states were compared to male circumcision rates – a procedure for which paracetamol has been widely prescribed since the mid-1990s. Prevalence studies were extracted from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Summary of Autism/ASD Prevalence Studies database. Maternal paracetamol usage and circumcision rates were identified by searches on Pub Med. RESULTS: Using all available country-level data (n = 8) for the period 1984 to 2005, prenatal use of paracetamol was correlated with autism/ASD prevalence (r = 0.80). There was a strong correlation between country-level (n = 9) autism/ASD prevalence in males and a country’s circumcision rate (r = 0.98). A very similar pattern was seen among U.S. states and when comparing the 3 main racial/ethnic groups in the U.S. The country-level correlation between autism/ASD prevalence in males and paracetamol was considerably weaker before 1995 when the drug became widely used during circumcision. CONCLUSIONS: This ecological analysis identified country-level correlations between indicators of prenatal and perinatal paracetamol exposure and autism/ASD. State level correlation was also identified for the indicator of perinatal paracetamol exposure and autism/ASD. Like all ecological analyses, these data cannot provide strong evidence of causality. However, biologic plausibility is provided by a growing body of experimental and clinical evidence linking paracetamol metabolism to pathways shown to be important in autism and related developmental abnormalities. Taken together, these ecological findings and mechanistic evidence suggest the need for formal study of the role of paracetamol in autism.

Concepts: Pregnancy, Autism, Correlation and dependence, Asperger syndrome, Autism spectrum, Prevalence, Circumcision, Neurodevelopmental disorder

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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

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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

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Acetaminophen is extensively used during pregnancy. But there is a lack of population-representative cohort studies evaluating its effects on a range of neuropsychological and behavioural endpoints. We aimed to assess whether prenatal exposure to acetaminophen is adversely associated with neurodevelopmental outcomes at 1 and 5 years of age.

Concepts: Psychology, Cohort study, Pregnancy, Neuroscience, Autism, Neural development, Neurodevelopmental disorder

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Interest is being shown in a componential analysis of performance on declarative memory tasks that distinguishes two different kinds of access to stored memories, recollection and familiarity. From a developmental perspective, it has been hypothesized that recollection emerges later and shows more developmental changes than familiarity. Nevertheless, the contribution of recollection and familiarity to the recognition performance of individuals with intellectual disabilities (ID) has been rarely examined. The present study was aimed at investigating the qualitative profile of declarative long-term memory in a group of individuals with Williams syndrome (WS). We compared 13 individuals with WS and 13 mental-age-matched typically developing children in two different experimental paradigms to assess the contribution of familiarity and recollection to recognition performance. We adopted a modified version of the process dissociation procedure and a task dissociation procedure, both of which are suited to individuals with ID. Results of both experimental paradigms demonstrated reduced recollection and spared familiarity in the declarative memory performances of individuals with WS. These results provide direct evidence of a dissociation between recollection and familiarity in a neurodevelopmental disorder and are discussed in relation to alternative approaches for explaining abnormal cognition in individuals with ID.

Concepts: Psychology, Memory, Hippocampus, Autism, Long-term memory, Declarative memory, Neurodevelopmental disorder, Williams syndrome