New Study: Protein Malfunctions Linked to Autism

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The malfunctioning of brain protein adenomatous polyposis coli (APC) plays an important role in autism and retardation, scientists say.

Findings by neuroscientists in various Tufts graduate programs—published in the August 18 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience—show a link between the APC protein and the development, or lack thereof, of something called a synapse.

If a synapse were a traffic intersection, the APC protein would be those annoying bridge tolls that are later used to develop roadways. Only instead of freight and passengers, the vehicles on this highway would carry information between neurons. A lack of tax collection will inhibit the development of the intersection—think potholes and faded, unreadable road signs—so that vehicles won’t be able to cross in the intended and most efficient way.  In the same way, APC impairment blocks the synapse maturation that is crucial to the mental processes of learning and using memory.

The study also clarifies the communication between information-carriers on either side of a synapse, which one author of the study calls a “poorly-understood but essential process.” (ScienceBlog)