A group of researchers at the University of Bristol have sequestered the potentially fatal breath holding episodes associated with the autistic-spectrum disorder Rett syndrome.
Rett syndrome is a developmental disorder of the brain that affects around 1 in10,000 young girls. One of the worse clinical disorders is the intermittent episodes of breath holding, putting the patient at risk of asphyxiation and further brain damage. Other disorders include repetitive hand movements, digestive and bowel problems, seizures, learning disability with lack of verbal skills and social withdrawal, making it a thoroughly debilitating disease.
However, an international team of researchers based at Bristol’s School of Physiology & Pharmacology have discovered a way to prevent these episodes of breath holding in a mouse model of Rett syndrome. Using a unique combination of drugs, they have discovered that the area of the brain that allows breathing to persist throughout life without interruption has reduced levels of a transmitter substance called aminobutyric acid.
Professor Julian Paton, who co-led the research, said: “These findings make a significant step in our understanding of the reasons why breathing is intermittent in Rett syndrome and give exciting hope for the future for alleviating young girls from these awful life threatening episodes of breath holding, which they experience regularly throughout the day.”