New method for the diagnosis of autism found

March 21, 2017
In the control rat, sound signals are transmitted to the brain via inhibitory neuron, medial nucleus of trapezoid body (MNTB). In the autism model rat, MNTB neurons are impaired and the transmitted sound signals cannot be suppressed. Thus, it causes auditory hypersensitivity. Since MNTB is known to be involved in exploring the direction of the sounds, impairment of MNTB suggests that new approach such as "Does your child seem to know where the sound comes from?" would be useful for the diagnosis of autism. Credit: Michiru Ida-Eto

Auditory hypersensitivity is a major complication in autism. Researchers at Mie University in Japan have demonstrated, using a rat autism model, that morphological abnormality of the auditory pathway is involved in this impairment. More importantly, this nerve pathway is responsible for the exploration of so-called sound localization. The researchers suggest a new diagnostic approach for autism such as asking the parent, 'Does your child seem to know where the sound comes from?'

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by impairments in social interaction, communication and sensory abnormalities such as sensitivity to sounds (auditory hypersensitivity). Despite intense research, the causes are still unknown. Therefore, depends on a detailed interview by the doctor, which is very subjective. Thus, simpler interview approaches are required.

The research group has traditionally produced autistic model animals and has clarified various features of autism. This time, based on their research results, they found what seems to be the cause of auditory hypersensitivity in the rodent brain for the first time. There are two kinds of pathway in the brain: One is excitatory and the other is inhibitory. In autistic model animals, abnormalities were found in the "inhibitory" , which was presumed to be the reason for auditory hypersensitivity.

This abnormal region in the model animal brain also plays a role in localizing from which direction a sound is heard. Therefore, asking the parents if their child seems to know where the comes from makes possible a much more clear and precise diagnosis. No special medical equipment nor chemicals are necessary, so it can be introduced immediately as a new approach to the interview.

Explore further: An autism 'revolution' in the history of child development

More information: Michiru Ida-Eto et al, Mechanism of auditory hypersensitivity in human autism using autism model rats, Pediatrics International (2016). DOI: 10.1111/ped.13186

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