A team led by University of Texas Southwestern (UTSW) researchers has identified brain circuitry that plays a key role in the dysfunctional social, repetitive, and inflexible behavioral differences that characterize autism spectrum disorders (ASD). The findings, published online on July 13, 2020 in Nature Neuroscience (https://www.nature.com/articles/s41593-020-0665-z), could lead to new therapies for these relatively prevalent disorders. The article is titled “Regulation of Autism-Relevant Behaviors by Cerebellar–Prefrontal Cortical Circuits.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that approximately 1 in 54 children in the United States have ASD, a broad range of neurodevelopmental conditions thought to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Although researchers have identified some key genes and pathways that contribute to ASD, the underlying biology of these disorders remains poorly understood, says Peter Tsai (https://profiles.utsouthwestern.edu/profile/153860/peter-tsai.html), MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in the Departments of Neurology and Neurotherapeutics, Neuroscience, Pediatrics, and Psychiatry at UTSW Medical Center and a member of the Peter O’Donnell Jr. Brain Institute (https://utswmed.org/odonnell/). However, Dr. Tsai explains, one key brain region that’s been implicated in ASD dysfunction is the cerebellum, part of the hindbrain in vertebrates that holds about three-quarters of all the neurons in the body and has traditionally been linked with motor control. Recent studies by Dr. Tsai and his colleagues have demonstrated that inhibiting activity in a region of the cerebellum known as Rcrus1 can cause altered social and repetitive/inflexible behaviors reminiscent of ASD in mice.
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