Some Autism Spectrum Disorder Symptoms Linked to Astrocytes

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21 Apr 2022, 4:14 pm

Weill Cornell Medicine

Abnormalities in a type of brain cell called astrocytes may play a pivotal role in causing some behavioral symptoms of autism spectrum disorders, according to a preclinical study by Weill Cornell Medicine investigators.

For the study, published April 1 in Molecular Psychiatry, senior author Dr. Dilek Colak, assistant professor of neuroscience at the Feil Family Brain and Mind Research Institute at Weill Cornell Medicine, and her colleagues grew astrocytes from the stem cells derived from patients with autism and transplanted them into healthy newborn mice. They found that after the transplant, the mice developed repetitive behaviors, a hallmark symptom of autism spectrum disorders (ASD), but they did not develop the social deficits associated with the disease. The mice also developed memory deficits, which are commonly seen in ASD but are not a core characteristic of the disease.

“Our study suggests that astrocyte abnormalities might contribute to the onset and progression of autism spectrum disorders,” said Dr. Colak, who is also assistant professor of neuroscience in pediatrics and a member of the Drukier Institute for Children’s Health. “Astrocyte abnormalities may be responsible for repetitive behavior or memory deficits, but not other symptoms like difficulties with social interactions.”

Most studies of autism spectrum disorders have focused on the role of neurons, a type of brain cell that relays information in the brain. But other brain cells, called astrocytes, help regulate the behavior of neurons and the connections between them. Genetic mutations linked to autism spectrum disorders are likely to affect various types of cells in the brain differently, Dr. Colak said. Post-mortem studies had already revealed abnormalities in astrocytes in the brains of patients with autism spectrum disorders.

“We didn’t know if these astrocyte abnormalities contributed to the development of the disease or if the abnormalities are the result of disease,” Dr. Colak said.

To determine if astrocytes might be involved early in the disease, the team obtained stem cells derived from patients with autism spectrum disorders, coaxed them into developing into astrocytes in the laboratory, and transplanted them into the brains of otherwise healthy newborn mice, creating a human-mouse chimera.

Using a microscopic technique called two-photon imaging, they observed excessive calcium signaling in the transplanted human astrocytes in the brains of mice, explained co-lead author Dr. Ben Huang, instructor of neuroscience in psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medicine.

“It was amazing to see these human astrocytes responding to behavioral changes in active mice,” Dr. Huang said. “We believe we are the first to record the activity of transplanted human astrocytes this way.”

To determine if the increased calcium signaling was causing the mice’s behavioral symptoms, the team infected astrocytes grown from ASD patient stem cells in the laboratory with a virus carrying a fragment of RNA designed to reduce calcium signaling to normal levels. When they transplanted these astrocytes into the mice, the animals did not develop memory problems.

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DSM 5: Autism Spectrum Disorder, DSM IV: Aspergers Moderate Severity

“My autism is not a superpower. It also isn’t some kind of god-forsaken, endless fountain of suffering inflicted on my family. It’s just part of who I am as a person”. - Sara Luterman

Tufted Titmouse
Tufted Titmouse

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21 Apr 2022, 5:00 pm

Could it be linked to bad gut immunity that is also implied in ASD?

Tufted Titmouse
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22 Apr 2022, 10:38 am

See the thing with improving functioning is that every person with ASD has a somewhat different situation and I feel there is people that fall under different symptom clusters but there is definitely a lot of common ground especially regarding astroglia/microglia dysfunction and/or inflammation. I for example need to take a lot of different supplements I been working with for years now to remain higher functioning. One of the more recent things that helped a lot was microglia inflammation control using Yerba Santa extract. My sensory and anxiety issues relieved themselves somewhat and I'm worse without it. I also take a heavy amount of antioxidants and through methyl folate/b12 and niacinamide (I used to take 500 mg but as I'm on chelation therapy right now I needed to double that with ALA use) keep my body's detoxification cycles working the best they could which was another major step in helping me be more functional from day to day. Currently I'm working with non-psychoactive minor cannabinoids and got further with a type of CBD called CBDV (6 small drops 3 times a day 6 hours apart each controls my sensory and motor issues to a great extent) and have CBDA on the way to make into a tincture. Another interesting thing I noticed as someone with a speech impediment is that a drop of CBG is able to somewhat fix that but kicks up my hyperactivity and sensory issues in my face which is the main area where mine are concentrated which I believe is something going wrong with the trigeminal nerve.

All in all without turning this post into a novel on my trial and errors in getting more functional as I am doing and have been doing a lot the general theme is that supporting natural detoxification, metal chelation with ACC protocol, heavily controlling inflammation associated with the CNS and immune system, and avoiding anything that over stimulates me helps a lot. The over stimulation part is a huge recurring theme too whether it be one too many mugs of coffee in the morning or chaga it leads to more sensory issues, social, and motor problems. Besides that my baseline symptoms of autism that nothing has ever done much for at all is how my sensory systems work and how much different they are from normal people. They've always kind of intersected with each other which alone causes issues in a sense of interacting with world but when I keep the worst symptoms of ASD down I'm alright with myself. My speech and social issues are proving to me quite as beast to tame as but I'm surprised at how far I've gotten. Though those specific things I know for a fact are tied to my PTSD too and that is a completely different monster to deal with that just happens to make everything else even worse.


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22 Apr 2022, 10:39 pm

Fascinating. Thank you for posting this. What do astrocytes normally do, I wonder.


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23 Apr 2022, 5:36 am

this is stimulus to do more reading and searching out more info. Interesting stuff!


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