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Autism symptoms could arise from unreliable neural responses: study


08:47, September 21, 2012

WASHINGTON, Sept. 19 (Xinhua) -- Diverse symptoms associated with autism could be explained by unreliable activity of neurons in the brain in response to basic, nonsocial sensory information, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Neuron.

The new findings suggest that autism is a disorder of general neural processing and could potentially provide an explanation for the origins of a range of psychiatric and neurological disorders.

In the study, adults with autism participated in functional magnetic resonance imaging experiments in which their brain activity was measured under three different conditions: while they watched moving dots on a screen, listened to tone beeps, and felt air puffs on their hands. The neural responses to all three types of sensory information were less reliable across trials in individuals with autism than in control subjects. The findings suggest that autism could result from fundamental defects in general neural processing rather than a collection of independent problems that affect different brain regions.

"Unreliable neural activity is a general property that could have a profound impact on the function of many brain systems and could underlie a range of cognitive and social abnormalities," says study author Marlene Behrmann of Carnegie Mellon University. "So we think that this problem could play a role not only in autism, but also potentially in other disorders such as epilepsy and schizophrenia."

Autism is a developmental disorder marked by social deficits, communication problems, and repetitive behaviors.
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