Israeli Researchers Say They’ve Discovered Brain Chemical Activity Linked to Autism

By Matis Glenn

Researchers at Hebrew University published a study showing a link between high levels of nitric oxide and autistic behavior, according to Ynet.

The study, led by Dr. Haitam Amal and published in Advanced Science, examined animals which exhibited autistic-like behavior, including repetitious behavior, lack of interest in new objects, and socialization and communication deficiency. The researchers found that these animals had high levels of nitric oxide in their brains. The researchers studied blood tests from children diagnosed with autism, too.

The team found that when nitric oxide levels were lowered in laboratory animals, their autistic-like symptoms decreased.

“Our study showed that inhibition of nitric oxide production in neuron cells in the brain causes a decrease in autistic markers,” Dr. Amal told Ynet. “The laboratory animals we examined became more sociable, less repetitive in their behavior was observed, and they were interested in new objects. We also saw that they were less anxious.”

After the study, the researchers began developing a medication designed to lower nitric oxide levels in people; it is currently being tested for safety on laboratory animals, and the team hopes to move on to human clinical trials within two years.

Dr. Amal says that the discovery could lead to not only a cure for autism, but a treatment for other brain disorders.

“Our discovery could have implications for the link between nitric oxide levels and other neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s, or psychiatric diseases like schizophrenia and manic depression,” said Dr. Amal. “I hope that the new discovery and understanding of this mechanism will lead to the development of a cure for autism, such a drug will help millions of children and adults around the world.”

Cases of autism have been rising precipitously, though it is debated among experts if more children are developing the condition, or if it is simply being recognized and reported more frequently. The World Health Organization says that 1 in 100 children on average have autism.

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