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

April 11, 2013
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.

Explore further: The mirror neuron system in autism: Broken or just slowly developing?

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

Autism risk gene linked to differences in brain structure

March 21, 2012

Healthy individuals who carry a gene variation linked to an increased risk of autism have structural differences in their brains that may help explain how the gene affects brain function and increases vulnerability for autism. ...

Scientists reverse disorder of neuronal circuits in autism

September 14, 2012

People with autism suffer from a pervasive developmental disorder of the brain that becomes evident in early childhood. Peter Scheiffele and Kaspar Vogt, Professors at the Biozentrum of the University of Basel, have identified ...

Recommended for you

Low glycemic index diet reduces symptoms of autism in mice

June 9, 2015

Bread, cereal and other sugary processed foods cause rapid spikes and subsequent crashes in blood sugar. In contrast, diets made up of vegetables, fruits and whole grains are healthier, in part because they take longer to ...

Neuroscientists reveal autism's 'noisy' secret

May 26, 2015

Strapped into a motion-enabled simulator and wearing 3D glasses, 36 adolescent volunteers recently experienced what it was like to "travel" through a field of virtual stars. The experiments provided new and convention-busting ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

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

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.