This week I read a very interesting article on the science daily website entitled Modeling Autism in a Lab Dish: Researchers Create Autistic Neuron Model . Autism has previously been viewed as a learned disorder thats caused by bad parenting skills however it has been found that in almost all cases of autism it is caused by a mutation in the MeCP2 gene. The researchers used iPS skin cells from autistic participants. The skin cells were then "encouraged" to have the same mutations and damages as autism. They then created fully functional neurons from the cells at which point the researchers compared the cells of autistic participants to those in the control group. They found that the autistic cells had smaller cell bodies, a reduced number of synapses and dendritic spines, specialized structures that enable cell-cell communication, and electrophysical defects. However, when they added insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) to the cells, the differences decreased. Their research suggests that in the future it is possible to cure autism to some extent. This research could also be used to treat and cure other psychiatric disorders as well. If implemented, this research could improve the lives of millions of people with psychiatric disorders.
To read more, the original article was published in the November 12, 2010 issue of Cell.