April 11, 2016

Autism BrainNet Welcomes Spring

David Amaral, Ph.D.

Director, Autism BrainNet

Dear Autism BrainNet registrants,


We are very appreciative of the support of the autism community for the goals of Autism BrainNet. In 2015 we established collaborative agreements with the NIH NeuroBioBank and with the Dup 15q Alliance. We are working with a number of other groups to establish similar relationships so that they can make their members aware of the need for postmortem brain tissue to advance the understanding of autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders.


Scientific findings using postmortem brain donations have been very exciting in 2015. One prominent study examined the development of blood vessels in the brains of people with autism. Usually, a process called "angiogenesis", or growth of new blood vessels, takes place in the brain during early development and is essentially complete by around age 2. Almost by accident, a lab at NYU headed by Ephraim Azmitia found that in people with autism, angiogenesis appears to continue well into adulthood. The meaning of this finding is not yet clear. But, it highlights once again that there are mysteries of the autistic brain that cannot be uncovered without actually studying the postmortem brain.


The second study focused on interneurons, which are the regulators of activity in the brain. There is a balance of excitation and inhibition in the brain that is essential to normal functioning. Too much excitation and you have epilepsy. This study, which is summarized below, has found that the normal ratio of excitatory to inhibitory neurons in the brain is abnormal in autism.


Studies like these can only be done using postmortem brain tissue and wouldn't be possible without families of affected and unaffected individuals making the generous decision to donate brain tissue for autism research. We encourage you to spread the word about Autism BrainNet and the critical need for brain tissue for research.


If you have advice on how we can spread the message of the critical need for postmortem donations, please feel free to contact me at dgamaral@ucdavis.edu. We appreciate your advice and your continued support of Autism BrainNet.


All the best for 2016


David Amaral and the Autism BrainNet staff          


The Interneurons of the Brain and Autism
Fewer interneurons in the prefrontal cortex of people with autism
The human brain is a wet computer that is made up of different kinds of cells called neurons. There are excitatory neurons that activate the neurons that they communicate with and there are inhibitory neurons that decrease activity. Neuroscience has discovered that the brain only works properly if there is a balance between excitatory and inhibitory influences. Too much excitation and there are problems like epilepsy; too little excitation and a separate set of issues like learning difficulties may emerge. A group at the University of California at Davis headed by Verónica Martínez-Cerdeño studied thin sections of the brain that are stained by antibodies that are specific for a specific class of interneurons (yes to make things more complicated there are different types of interneurons - don't worry, that won't be on the test). Martínez- Cerdeño and colleagues found that the number of these interneurons is decreased compared to typically developing brains. What is the consequence? Potentially too much excitation and possibly epilepsy in the worst case, but abnormal brain processing in the best case. This is a finding that is impossible with magnetic resonance imaging or any other method. You need to study actual postmortem brain tissue.

Things to Learn and Do:

The Interactive Autism Network hosted a webinar about sleep issues, in autism with Dr. Beth Malow from Vanderbilt University.  You can find the link to the webinar here:   https://iancommunity.org/ssc/webinar-sleep-challenges-autism
Interested in learning more about how genes and the environment interact?  Autism Science Foundation, Autism Speaks and the Escher Fund for Autism co-organized a webinar on environmental epigenetics.  The latest in the series on how the environment affects the epigenome and can lead to gene mutations, can be found here:  http://asfpodcast.org/?p=161
Do you live in the NYC area?  The Autism Science Foundation is organizing the 3rd Day of Learning on April 14th, with a full day of TED-style talks around autism.  If you are interested, click here:   www.autismsciencefoundation.org
This year's International Meeting for Autism Research, a scientific meeting of over 2000 autism researchers from across the world, will be held in Baltimore, Maryland on May 12-14th.  Autism BrainNet will be reporting out from what was presented at IMFAR, if you'd like to see the whole program go to their website:  www.autism-insar.org. 
Autism Speaks is excited to announce the launch of their latest tool kit to provide the essential information and guidance you need to develop a plan for your child's financial future. For more information, please visit https://www.autismspeaks.org/family-services/tool-kits/financial-planning.

Join Autism Speaks and the autism community at resource fairs coming up.  Autism BrainNet will be there!

Bay Area Walk -April 23rd  
Chicago Walk - May 14th at Soldier Field
Go the Distance for Autism - May 22nd at Bergen Community College, NJ

Autism Treatment Network Supports Autism BrainNet
Alicia Curran from the ATN site at the Thompson center
Many children with autism need specialized, multi-disciplinary medical attention from experts. To address this problem, the Autism Treatment Network (ATN), a collaboration of 14 of the world's finest children's hospital and academic institutions, are collaborating to serve over 30,000 children nationwide. The ATN focuses on issues particularly germane to autism including, sleep, nutrition and seizure. A map of the different ATN sites is below. Autism BrainNet is thankful that the ATN is partnering with us in explaining the need for postmortem brain tissue for research. Thanks to the efforts of the ATN staff and the family advisory committee, Autism BrainNet materials are included at each ATN site in the US.
Thank you to the ATN for everything you do for families with autism!
               ATN Sites across the US and Canada




Over 70 people registered at the Palm Beach Walk.
Cheryl Kinsinger at an advocacy event in Illinois.
Thank you to all who came out for the Walk for Autism Speaks in Pasadena!

Autism BrainNet

It takes brains to solve autism.