Autism BrainNet Newsletter

To learn more about the activity of the It Takes Brains campaign and updates on research, read our newsletter: Autism BrainNet Winter 2017 Newsletter

Autism BrainNet Webinar Series

We are happy to announce a new webinar series hosted by Autism BrainNet. The goal of this series is to educate the public on the challenges faced by parents with autism and how brain tissue research is addressing them.


Upcoming Webinars

April 12, 2018

One brain, 30 projects

What one brain can do to understand ASD

Did you know that each brain can supply resources for up to 30 research studies?  In a webinar given by node director Cyndi Schumann, she explains how one donation has led to significant discoveries in the neurobiology of autism, including how cells are shaped, how many there are, genetic influences of ASD, how genes and environment interact, and how these are leading to significant treatment options.  Please join us on April 12th at 10am PST (1pm EST) for this webinar. Participation is free but please register here.


Previous Webinars

January 22, 2018

Mosaic Mutations—Present in Some Brain Cells But Not All Brain Cells—And Their Relevance to Autism

On January 22nd, Christopher Walsh, MD, PhD, Autism BrainNet researcher and Chief of the Division of Genetics at Boston Children’s Hospital, presented data on genetic mutations that occur in the brain, and only in the brain. These mutations, named post-zygotic mutations, are seen only in the brain because they occur after the formation of the zygote, when the embryo starts to form and develop and different types of cells are formed. Dr. Walsh presented data on why these mutations are important for understanding symptoms of autism, and how they contribute to the formation of the autistic brain. Please click here to watch the presentation.


May 4, 2017

Investigating Gene x Environment Interactions in “Single Gene Autisms”

Around 5-10% of autism cases are caused by mutations of highly penetrant genes.  It was previously thought that environmental factors did not play a significant role in these “single gene autisms,” but recent research has proven otherwise. On this webinar, Dr. Janine LaSalle and collaborator Keith Dunaway highlight the opportunities in studying gene x environment interactions in cases of “single gene autisms.” Please click here to watch the presentation.


April 28, 2017

Understanding the Genetics and Epigenetics of Autism by Looking at the Brain

On April 28th, Dr. Neelroop Parkishak from the lab of Dr. Daniel Geschwind at UCLA presented a summary of findings which looked at the simultaneous activity of several genes together, rather than separately, to identify common biological mechanisms across the causes of autism. He showed that despite different causes of ASD, brain tissue research reveals that there are common biological mechanisms which may be the target of newer interventions. Please click here to watch the presentation.


December 13, 2016

What We Know about Autism because of Brain Tissue Research

On December 13, 2016, Dr. Matthew Anderson from Beth Isreal Deaconess Medical Center presented a 45 minute webinar on recent findings in autism thanks to studying the brains of people with autism.  It covers genetics, neuropathology and immunology.  It’s a great chance to hear a quick recap of findings from an Autism BrainNet node director.  Please click here to watch the 45 minute presentation and questions from the audience.


October 14, 2016

Epilepsy and Autism Seen Through the Brain

On October 14th, Autism BrainNet hosted a webinar about research on the cellular changes associated with epilepsy in individuals with autism. Dr. Shefali Jeste of UCLA presented on the clinical features of individuals with a combination of epilepsy and autism, and Dr. David Menassa at Oxford University discussed alterations in glia cells in people with both epilepsy and autism. Glia, once thought to only be the support cells of the nervous system, are now known to work cooperatively with neurons that transmit information in the brain. A recording of the webinar can be viewed here.


What Have Scientists Learned? What Do They Hope to Learn?

What have scientists learned about autism from brain tissue research and what do they hope to learn? Researchers learned that there are important cell differences in the brains of people with autism. For example, researchers have discovered that:

  • Children with autism have different underlying brain structures compared with typically developing children, including an overabundance of nerve cells in an area of the brain involved in social and communication skills.
  • Genes involved in cell connectivity tend to be expressed at lower levels in autism brains, and genes related to immune cells at higher levels, than in control brains.
  • The brains of autistic people have fewer oxytocin receptors than the brains of unaffected people. Oxytocin is a hormone that has an influence on social behavior.
  • There appear to be structural difference in the brains of people with autism, including differences in the number and size of neurons and the presence of inflammation.

Scientists hope to study the genetic functioning of brain cells and to understand the role of epigenetics (the modifying of gene behavior and the turning on and off of individual genes) in autism. They also need to study gene expression and changes specific to neurons, which can be seen only by examining brain tissue.

Brain research may also lead to the development of ways to influence the way the brain develops its connections in early childhood in order to reduce some of the difficulties experienced by people with autism. Scientists may also come to a better understanding of how brain structure relates to the special skills of some autistic people.

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