(NPR) — Brains affected by autism appear to share a difference in the cells that produce myelin, the “insulation” for brain circuits that allow them to quickly and reliably carry electrical signals from one area to another.
Brains affected by autism appear to share a problem with cells that make myelin, the insulating coating surrounding nerve fibers that controls the speed at which the fibers convey electrical signals.
The finding could help explain why autism spectrum disorders include such a wide range of social and behavioral features, says Brady Maher, a lead investigator at the Lieber Institute for Brain Development and an associate professor in the psychiatry department at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
The study adds to the evidence that myelination problems are present in “several developmental disorders and in particular in autism,” says Dr. Flora Vaccarino, a professor in the neuroscience department at Yale who was not involved in the research.
That might eventually mean a treatment that corrected a problem with myelination could help children who are diagnosed early in life, he says. Several such treatments are being developed to treat people with multiple sclerosis, a disease that erodes myelin.