A gene linked to autism spectrum disorders (ASD) actually alters individual brain cells’ ability to process information, researchers at MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory report in the June 10 advance online edition of Nature Neuroscience.
The finding focuses on a faulty molecular mechanism that may underlie ASD’s cognitive impairments. The discovery could lead to future treatments targeting a brain enzyme that controls the formation of a neuronal structure called dendrites, according to lead author Li-Huei Tsai, Picower Professor of Neuroscience and director of the Picower Institute.
Dendrites are neurons’ spiky, branchlike projections. Dendrites at the apex of the cell body are known as apical; dendrites that emerge from the bottom are called basal. Basal dendrites, studded with synapses, receive electrical signals sent by other neurons within the brain.