Nerve Cells and Autism

A recent study has shown that nerve cells taken from patients with autism grow bigger and develop much sooner than the ones collected from people without it. The research might have revealed one of the factors that cause the brain to develop this disorder.

To further test this theory, researchers led by Simon Schafer from the Salk Institute used skin cells from both people with and without autism and transformed them into stem cells. Later on, these cells transformed into nerve cells. During the experiment, the team of scientists was also able to monitor the rate at which the cells grew and how they behaved during their transformation.


The study showed that the cells coming from patients with autism were able to grow bigger and they had more intricate branches than the cells that came from people without autism. The organoids that the scientists created from the cells with autism were a lot bigger as well. Additionally, genes that are crucial for the healthy development of the human brain began switching on much sooner than when looking at normal cells.

The first signs of trouble with the autism derived cells began at the moment when the cells were about to turn into nerve cells. During the neural stem stage, the chromatin of these cells was different. It was much less tightly packed, and it was more accessible than intended. This, in turn, leads to abnormally active genes.

During the experiments, the scientists were able to bypass many of these issues. When they forced the cell to skip its neural stem stage the growth patterns disappeared. This told scientists that there is a particular event which might cause the brain to develop autism.

Since there is such a large number of different types of autism disorders, these tests need to be conducted on people with other forms of autism. This study only focused on people that had enlarged brains.

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