A group of scientists led by Professor Minsik Kim from DGIST say they have figured out what environmental factors play a role in causing autism spectrum disorder. The group worked together with research teams led by Professor Yongsuk Lee at Seoul National University, Professor Junyong Ahn at Korea University, and Chanyeong Shin at Konkuk University.
Autism spectrum disorder is a kind of condition that usually shows up in early childhood. People with this disorder tend to have specific behaviors, interests, and activities, often repeating them. They may struggle with normal social interactions. Studies suggest that about 1 in every 50 to 60 children have some form of this disorder, so it’s relatively common.
We know that autism spectrum disorder can be caused by a mix of genetic factors and certain environmental factors. These environmental factors might include serious infections or being exposed to certain types of drugs while in the womb.
A while back, a study led by Professor Chanyeong Shin at Konkuk University found a possible link between a medication called valproate and autism spectrum disorder. This medicine could potentially affect the development of a baby’s brain if taken during pregnancy. But, making effective treatments has been hard because there hasn’t been enough research on the specific target in the body.
So, Professor Minsik Kim’s team did a thorough analysis using a mouse model treated with valproate, which had been developed by Professor Shin’s team. They found that a specific gene called Rnf146, which is known to be related to autism spectrum disorder, was more active in the front part of the brain in the mouse model. This was because of a negative reaction to valproate. They also noticed behaviors in the mice that were similar to autistic behaviors. They did this part of the study with Professor Lee’s team at the College of Medicine of Seoul National University. They also discovered that the balance between certain brain chemicals was off in the front part of the brain in the mouse model. Professor Lee of Seoul National University said, “Since this phenomenon is commonly observed in other autistic models, this research significantly contributes to identifying the common cause of autism.”
This study’s results should help us learn more about how autism spectrum disorder works. It might even lead to better ways of finding and treating it early.
Professor Kim said, “We will continue our research on various developmental disorder models using multi-omics analysis through joint studies with other institutions and carry out comprehensive research on model organisms so as to identify the core network of autism spectrum disorder and discover treatment targets.”
Professor Shin of Konkuk University added, “The research results are expected to become the foundation of future research on the possibility of environmental pollution causing autism and the related mechanisms.”
Professor Ahn of Korea University said, “In particular, the multi-omics technology is expected to be widely utilized in discovering a new molecular network in the brain development process and finding critical regulatory genes of various autistic models.”
The results of this research, which was funded by the Ministry of Science and ICT, were published in the journal “Experimental & Molecular Medicine” on August 1, 2023. This journal has a high impact factor of 12.800 and is recognized for its contributions to the field of energy and the environment.