Animal research & autism

Scientists in the US are using mice and zebrafish to help understand some of the symptoms experienced by people with autism, caused by a gene mutation.

Mutations in SYNGAP1 - a gene found present in synapses which form junctions between neurons in the brain and help pass on chemical messages - are often associated with autism.

In a virtual conference, researchers from Scripps Research, Florida, presented unpublished work showing that mice with mutations in SYNGAP1 had much lower responses to touch than those without the mutation.

In addition, researchers at the University of Miami, presented their work showing a link between SYNGAP1 mutations and food digestion.

Thanks to the transparent properties of young zebrafish, the researchers were able to visualise how quickly food was passed through the digestive systems of the fish, which was much slower in those with the gene mutation.

The team are now recruiting patients with this mutation for further study.

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