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 firstname.lastname@example.org. We appreciate your advice and your continued support of Autism BrainNet.
All the best for 2016
David Amaral and the Autism BrainNet staff