The Korea Herald


Research raises hopes for dealing with autism

By Korea Herald

Published : June 13, 2012 - 20:36

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A group of Korean scientists said they have succeeded in temporarily suppressing autistic behavior in mice in experiments, which may raise hopes for treating the developmental brain disorder.

Researchers from the Seoul National University, Yonsei University and the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology studied mice with human genes.

They deleted some parts of a gene called SHANK2, and found that the mice carrying the gene show autism-like behavior such as difficulty in interacting with others and repetitive self-grooming.

This is not the first time researchers have linked the SHANK2 gene with autism. The new study suggests that the role of a specific molecule called the NMDA glutamate receptor, or NMDAR, is associated with the disorder.

The NMDAR is one of two receptors existing in synapse and is believed critical to memory function. In the study, researchers found that mice that exhibit autistic behavior show a decrease in NMDAR.

The study further discovered that when mice given a drug called CDPPB that enhances NMDAR function, they became less repetitive and more interactive.

The study, supported by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology and the National Research Foundation of Korea, was published in the latest edition of Nature.

Although autism-related genes are being increasingly identified and studied through various approaches, how the disorder occurs is still not well understood and there is still no cure for that.

But the latest finding indicates a potential target for future drugs for autism patients, said Kaang Bong-kiun, professor of neurobiology at SNU, who led the research.

He admitted, however, it will take a long time before actually inventing a drug that can stop or possibly heal autism behavior.

“Although we’ve proved our method with lab mice, still we need further research and clinical tests in order to apply it to humans. And I think it will take up to ten years,” he added.

There is no specific data on how many children have the neurobehavioral syndrome in Korea, as autism had long been seen as shameful disorder. But a study in 2011 estimated 1 in 38 Korean children had some form of autism ― compared with 1 in 88 in the U.S.

By Oh Kyu-wook (