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Autism May be Linked to Defects in Mitochondria - featured December 2, 2010

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[Source: LA Times]

Autistic children have a high incidence of defects in mitochondria, the "powerhouses" of cells, but it is not yet clear if those defects are a cause of the disorder or a byproduct of some more fundamental defect, UC Davis researchers said Tuesday. Mitochondria create energy for cellular metabolism and when they are dysfunctional, cells do not operate efficiently. That can be particularly disruptive for cells, such as brain cells, that have high energy demands. A lack of energy for brain cells during development could help explain why children with autism do not function properly. Only the heart consumes more energy than the brain, and defects in mitochondria have already been shown to accompany other neurological conditions, including Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

There have been previous reports of isolated cases of mitochondrial dysfunction in children with autism, but no comprehensive studies. In part, that has been because such studies have looked at mitochondria in muscle tissues. That involves invasive procedures, and may not be a good source of information because muscles also get energy from glycolysis, which does not involve mitochondria.

To get around this problem, molecular biologist Cecilia Giulivi and her Davis colleagues decided to study mitochondria in white blood cells, which are more accessible and produce energy in much the same fashion as mitochondria in brain cells. They enlisted 10 autistic children, ages 2 to 5, from Northern California who had been enrolled in a previous study at Davis and 10 healthy children of the same age.

Read the Rest of the Article on this UC Davis Study on the LA Times Website

Tags: News of the Week Autism Newsletter 3 December 2010