Study sheds light on the pathogenesis of autism
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a complex, biological system found in the body. Knowledge of the endocannabinoid system is relatively new and lacks depth. But accumulating evidence suggests that the endocannabinoid system is implicated in multiple regulatory functions both in health and disease. For example, endocannabinoid signaling has been suggested to regulate synaptic transmission in the striatum, a brain region which is a critical component of the motor and reward systems. Defects in the striatum seem to contribute to the motor, social and communication impairments seen in patients with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). These data highlight the need to investigate the association between the endocannabinoid system and the pathogenesis of ASD.
Now, a team of researchers from Vanderbilt University, National Institutes of Health, and Indiana University in the USA has gained new insights into the role of the endocannabinoid system in the pathogenesis of ASD. Endocannabinoids, which are a group of neurotransmitters, and their receptors are found throughout the body. An endocannabinoid, called 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG), is present at relatively high levels in the central nervous system. 2-AG is synthesized by the enzyme diacylglycerol lipase alpha
(DGLα). Working with mice, the team investigated the effect of 2-AG deficiency by deleting the gene encoding DGLα from neurons. They discovered that 2-AG deficiency may be associated with social deficits and repetitive behavior.
The full paper (Role of striatal direct pathway 2-arachidonoylglycerol signaling in sociability and repetitive behavior) can be read in the journal Biological Psychiatry. Brian Shonesy, PhD, a researcher at Vanderbilt University, is the study's first author.
ASD is the name for a group of complex neurodevelopment disorders characterized by repetitive and characteristic patterns of behavior and social problems. It's estimated that 1 in 160 children has a certain form of ASD. Both environmental and genetic factors determine the risk of having ASD. The severity of ASD varies from person to person. Some people with ASD are able to complete daily activities independently, while others fail to do so. In severe cases, patients require life-long care and support. They may repeat certain behaviors or have unusual behaviors, have problems with social communication or interaction, and experience sleep problems and digestion problem. Some of ASD people also suffer from an intellectual disability. In a word, ASD may have significant negative effects on the quality of people's life.
Currently, there is no cure for ASD. Non-medical interventions are the treatment of choice for ASD. These interventions may behavioral, educational, and psychological treatment. But medications are also used in alleviating associated emotional and behavioral symptoms. Research on ASD is still in a deep going. A better understanding of the pathogenesis of ASD would facilitate the development of pharmacologic treatments for ASD patients.