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Overexcited Brain Cells May Spur Symptoms of Autism, Stanford Study Finds

Stimulating brain cells with light can generate autism-like symptoms, Stanford University researchers reported in a mouse study that may provide clues on what causes the disease in people.
The scientists implanted light-sensitive proteins into parts of the brain linked to social behavior in normal mice, and then activated them with blue lasers routed into the brain using fiber-optic cables. Normally gregarious mice didn’t socialize with other animals and developed a brain-wave pattern seen in some people with autism and schizophrenia. Their interest in exploring inanimate objects was normal, according to the results published online in the journal Nature.
The findings provide evidence for the theory that autism and brain disorders such as schizophrenia, where social behavior breaks down, may be caused by brain circuits oversensitive to stimulation, the researchers said.
“It definitely provides an insight into what might be wrong in autism, which is a huge step,” said Karl Deisseroth, a Stanford University psychiatrist and senior author, in a telephone interview. “It opens the door to a whole host” of treatment possibilities, including use of drugs or devices that calm or shield specific parts of the brain.
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