Defining cells and circuits in autism spectrum disorders
Nathaniel Heintz and his colleagues at Rockefeller University in New York are using a powerful new method to identify cells whose functions are altered in two different mouse models of autism. The researchers are analyzing the data to assess the brain pathways that are altered in an effort to identify common molecular mechanisms relevant to autism. The Heintz laboratory has used the same general strategy to identify cell types that mediate the behavioral response to fever.
Although additional comparative analysis will be required to uncover the biological significance of these molecular data, one important and unexpected finding has already emerged from these studies. The researchers have discovered a direct link between MeCP2, the gene that is disrupted in Rett syndrome, and 5-hydroxymethylcytosine, a nucleotide that is abundant in human and mouse brains. This discovery has major implications for understanding Rett syndrome and perhaps other autism-related disorders.