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Journal: Molecular autism


Hans Asperger (1906-1980) first designated a group of children with distinct psychological characteristics as ‘autistic psychopaths’ in 1938, several years before Leo Kanner’s famous 1943 paper on autism. In 1944, Asperger published a comprehensive study on the topic (submitted to Vienna University in 1942 as his postdoctoral thesis), which would only find international acknowledgement in the 1980s. From then on, the eponym ‘Asperger’s syndrome’ increasingly gained currency in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the conceptualization of the condition. At the time, the fact that Asperger had spent pivotal years of his career in Nazi Vienna caused some controversy regarding his potential ties to National Socialism and its race hygiene policies. Documentary evidence was scarce, however, and over time a narrative of Asperger as an active opponent of National Socialism took hold. The main goal of this paper is to re-evaluate this narrative, which is based to a large extent on statements made by Asperger himself and on a small segment of his published work.


Clinical chemistry tests for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are currently unavailable. The aim of this study was to explore the diagnostic utility of proteotoxic biomarkers in plasma and urine, plasma protein glycation, oxidation, and nitration adducts, and related glycated, oxidized, and nitrated amino acids (free adducts), for the clinical diagnosis of ASD.

Concepts: Amino acid, Acid, Ammonia, Nitrogen, Autism, Asperger syndrome, Autism spectrum, Glycation


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


Patients with anorexia may have elevated autistic traits. In this study, we tested test whether patients with anorexia nervosa (anorexia) have an elevated score on a dimensional measure of autistic traits, the Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ), as well as on trait measures relevant to the autism spectrum: the Empathy Quotient (EQ), and the Systemizing Quotient (SQ).

Concepts: Autism, Pervasive developmental disorder, Asperger syndrome, Autism spectrum, PDD-NOS, Topological space


BACKGROUND: There are no effective medications for the treatment of social cognition/function deficits in autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and adult intervention literature in this area is sparse. Emerging data from animal models and genetic association studies as well as early, single-dose intervention studies suggest that the oxytocin system may be a potential therapeutic target for social cognition/function deficits in ASD. The primary aim of this study was to examine the safety/therapeutic effects of intranasal oxytocin versus placebo in adults with ASD, with respect to the two core symptom domains of social cognition/functioning and repetitive behaviors. METHODS: This was a pilot, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel design trial of intranasal oxytocin versus placebo in 19 adults with ASD (16 males; 33.20 +/- 13.29 years). Subjects were randomized to 24 IU intranasal oxytocin or placebo in the morning and afternoon for 6 weeks. Measures of social function/cognition (the Diagnostic Analysis of Nonverbal Accuracy) and repetitive behaviors (Repetitive Behavior Scale Revised) were administered. Secondary measures included the Social Responsiveness Scale, Reading-the-Mind-in-the-Eyes Test and the Yale Brown Obsessive Compulsive Scale – compulsion subscale and quality of life (World Health Organization Quality of Life Questionnaire – emotional/social subscales). Full-information maximum-likelihood parameter estimates were obtained and tested using mixed-effects regression analyses. RESULTS: Although no significant changes were detected in the primary outcome measures after correcting for baseline differences, results suggested improvements after 6 weeks in measures of social cognition (Reading-the-Mind-in-the-Eyes Test, p = 0.002, d = 1.2), and quality of life (World Health Organization Quality of Life Questionnaire – emotion, p = 0.031, d = 0.84), both secondary measures. Oxytocin was well tolerated and no serious adverse effects were reported. CONCLUSIONS: This pilot study suggests that there is therapeutic potential to daily administration of intranasal oxytocin in adults with ASD and that larger and longer studies are warranted.Trial registrationNCT00490802.

Concepts: Psychology, Randomized controlled trial, Autism, Pervasive developmental disorder, Asperger syndrome, Autism spectrum, PDD-NOS, World Health Organization


BACKGROUND: Studies of prenatal exposure to sex steroid hormones predict autistic traits in children at 18 to 24 and at 96 months of age. However, it is not known whether postnatal exposure to these hormones has a similar effect. This study compares prenatal and postnatal sex steroid hormone levels in relation to autistic traits in 18 to 24-month-old children.Fetal testosterone (fT) and fetal estradiol (fE) levels were measured in amniotic fluid from pregnant women (n = 35) following routine second-trimester amniocentesis. Saliva samples were collected from these children when they reached three to four months of age and were analyzed for postnatal testosterone (pT) levels. Mothers were asked to complete the Quantitative Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (Q-CHAT), a measure of autistic traits in children 18 to 24 months old.Finding: fT (but not pT) levels were positively associated with scores on the Q-CHAT. fE and pT levels showed no sex differences and no relationships with fT levels. fT levels were the only variable that predicted Q-CHAT scores. CONCLUSIONS: These preliminary findings are consistent with the hypothesis that prenatal (but not postnatal) androgen exposure, coinciding with the critical period for sexual differentiation of the brain, is associated with the development of autistic traits in 18 to 24 month old toddlers. However, it is recognized that further work with a larger sample population is needed before the effects of postnatal androgen exposure on autistic traits can be ruled out. These results are also in line with the fetal androgen theory of autism, which suggests that prenatal, organizational effects of androgen hormones influence the development of autistic traits in later life.

Concepts: Pregnancy, Hormone, Estrogen, Testosterone, Glucocorticoid, Steroid, Amniotic fluid, Steroid hormone


An important minority of school-aged autistic children, often characterized as ‘nonverbal’ or ‘minimally verbal,’ displays little or no spoken language. These children are at risk of being judged ‘low-functioning’ or ‘untestable’ via conventional cognitive testing practices. One neglected avenue for assessing autistic children so situated is to engage current knowledge of autistic cognitive strengths. Our aim was thus to pilot a strength-informed assessment of autistic children whose poor performance on conventional instruments suggests their cognitive potential is very limited.

Concepts: Cognition, Autism


Among non-clinical samples, autistic traits correlate with a range of educational and social outcomes. However, previous work has not investigated the relationship between autistic traits and income, a key determinant of socio-economic status and well-being. In five studies (total N = 2491), we recruited participants without a diagnosis of autism from the general US population via an online platform and administered the short-form Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ) as well as asked a range of demographic questions. We found a negative association between AQ and household income, which remained robust after controlling for age, gender, education, employment status, ethnicity, and socially desirable responding. The effect was primarily driven by the participant’s own income and was mainly due to the social subscale of the AQ. These results provide initial evidence that income is negatively related to autistic traits among the general population, with potential implications for a range of social, psychological, and health outcomes.

Concepts: Demography, Sociology, Autism, Pervasive developmental disorder, Asperger syndrome, Autism spectrum, PDD-NOS, Household income in the United States


The way choices are framed influences decision-making. These “framing effects” emerge through the integration of emotional responses into decision-making under uncertainty. It was previously reported that susceptibility to the framing effect was reduced in individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) due to a reduced tendency to incorporate emotional information into the decision-making process. However, recent research indicates that, where observed, emotional processing impairments in ASD may be due to co-occurring alexithymia. Alexithymia is thought to arise due to impaired interoception (the ability to perceive the internal state of one’s body), raising the possibility that emotional signals are not perceived and thus not integrated into decision-making in those with alexithymia and that therefore reduced framing effects in ASD are a product of co-occurring alexithymia rather than ASD per se. Accordingly, the present study compared framing effects in autistic individuals with neurotypical controls matched for alexithymia. Results showed a marked deviation between groups. The framing effect was, in line with previous data, significantly smaller in autistic individuals, and there was no relationship between alexithymia or interoception and decision-making in the ASD group. In the neurotypical group, however, the size of the framing effect was associated with alexithymia and interoception, even after controlling for autistic traits. These results demonstrate that although framing effects are associated with interoception and alexithymia in the neurotypical population, emotional and interoceptive signals have less impact upon the decision-making process in ASD.

Concepts: Psychology, Cognition, Autism, Pervasive developmental disorder, Asperger syndrome, Autism spectrum, PDD-NOS, Choice architecture


Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex neurodevelopmental condition, and multiple theories have emerged concerning core social deficits. While the social motivation hypothesis proposes that deficits in the social reward system cause individuals with ASD to engage less in social interaction, the overly intense world hypothesis (sensory over-responsivity) proposes that individuals with ASD find stimuli to be too intense and may have hypersensitivity to social interaction, leading them to avoid these interactions.

Concepts: Sociology, Autism, Pervasive developmental disorder, Asperger syndrome, Autism spectrum, Motivation, Reward system, Brain stimulation reward