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Children With Autism Have Extra Synapses In Brain, Study Finds

Update Date: Aug 22, 2014 01:53 AM EDT

Children and adolescents with autism have extra synapses in the brain, according to a new study. 

The excess synapses is due to a slowdown in a normal brain "pruning" process during development, the research found. Since synapses are the points where neurons connect and communicate with each other, surplus synapses may have significant effect on how the brain functions, the study suggested. 

The study further found that a drug that restores normal synaptic pruning can improve autistic-like behaviors in mice, even when the drug is given after the behaviors have appeared, the press release added.

"This is an important finding that could lead to a novel and much-needed therapeutic strategy for autism," said Jeffrey Lieberman, MD, Lawrence C. Kolb Professor and Chair of Psychiatry at CUMC and director of New York State Psychiatric Institute, who was not involved in the study, in the press release.

"Although the drug, rapamycin, has side effects that may preclude its use in people with autism, the fact that we can see changes in behavior suggests that autism may still be treatable after a child is diagnosed, if we can find a better drug," said the study's senior investigator, David Sulzer, PhD, professor of neurobiology in the Departments of Psychiatry, Neurology, and Pharmacology at CUMC.

The study has been published in the journal Neuron

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