Mutations found in individuals with autism interfere with endocannabinoid signaling in the brain

This image shows an inhibitory neuron whose function is affected by neuroligin mutation. Credit: Neuron, Foldy et al.

Mutations found in individuals with autism block the action of molecules made by the brain that act on the same receptors that marijuana's active chemical acts on, according to new research reported online April 11 in the Cell Press journal Neuron. The findings implicate specific molecules, called endocannabinoids, in the development of some autism cases and point to potential treatment strategies.

"Endocannabinoids are molecules that are critical regulators of normal neuronal activity and are important for many brain functions," says first author Dr. Csaba Földy, of Stanford University Medical School. "By conducting studies in mice, we found that neuroligin-3, a protein that is mutated in some individuals with autism, is important for relaying endocannabinoid signals that tone down communication between neurons."

When the researchers introduced different autism-associated mutations in neuroligin-3 into mice, this signaling was blocked and the overall excitability of the brain was changed.

"These findings point out an unexpected link between a protein implicated in autism and a that previously had not been considered to be particularly important for autism," says senior author Dr. Thomas Südhof, also of Stanford. "Thus, the findings open up a new area of research and may suggest novel strategies for understanding the underlying causes of complex ."

The results also indicate that targeting components of the endocannabinoid signaling system may help reverse autism symptoms.

The study's findings resulted from a between the Stanford laboratories of Dr. Südhof and Dr. Robert Malenka, who is also an author on the paper.

More information: Foldy et al.: "Autism-Associated Neuroligin-3 Mutations Commonly Disrupt Tonic Endocannabinoid Signaling." Neuron, 2013. dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neuron.2013.02.036

Related Stories

Gene mutation is linked to autism-like symptoms in mice

Feb 23, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- When a gene implicated in human autism is disabled in mice, the rodents show learning problems and obsessive, repetitive behaviors, researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center have found.

Recommended for you

Planning a better future for people with autism

7 hours ago

In the world of special education, transition is the move from school to adult life. For most of us that move can be awkward, but for people with disabilities—particularly autism—it is especially complex.

Are three brain imaging techniques better than one?

Aug 22, 2014

(Medical Xpress)—Many recent imaging studies have shown that in children with autism, different parts of the brain do not connect with each other in typical ways. Initially, most researchers thought that ...

Adults with autism at higher risk of sexual victimization

Aug 14, 2014

Adults with autism are at a higher risk of sexual victimization than adults without, due to lack of sex education, but with improved interventions that focus on sexual knowledge and skill building, the risk could be reduced, ...

Autism rates steady for two decades

Aug 14, 2014

(Medical Xpress)—A University of Queensland study has found no evidence of an increase in autism in the past 20 years, countering reports that the rates of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are on the rise.

User comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

brianweymes
1 / 5 (1) Apr 11, 2013
So they smoke some weed.