Towards a new therapeutic approach to autism
Researchers from the ULB Neuroscience Institute have shown that inactivation of a specific part of the brain, the activating circuit in the ventral region of the striatum, caused behaviours such as a decrease in social interaction, an increase in repetitive behaviours and anxiety.
One to two percent of the population suffer from autism spectrum disorders. These disorders are a result of genetic components and alterations in the functioning of neural circuits in specific parts of the brain. One of the main regions is the striatum. It is involved in motor control, reward and social interaction. The striatum is composed mainly of two circuits with opposing functions that activate or inhibit the afore-mentioned mechanisms.
A study published in Biological Psychiatry by a team from the ULB Neuroscience Institute supervised by Alban de Kerchove d'Exaerde in collaboration with a team from the University of Tours has demonstrated, with transgenic mouse models, that specific inactivation of the activating circuit in the ventral region of the striatum caused behaviours such as reduced social interaction, an increase in repetitive behaviours and anxiety.
The other originality of this study is that it showed that these symptoms are actually caused by an imbalance in activity between the two circuits, because specific pharmacological inhibition of the inhibiting circuit restores normal behaviours despite the absence of the activating circuit.
These findings, which show that specific pharmacological treatments removed autistic symptoms in mice, open up the possibility of new more targeted treatments for autism spectrum disorders.