Little is known about how social behavior develops in the earliest stages of life. But most animals — including humans — are born with an innate ability to interact socially or form bonds with others. And that contributes to success throughout life.
Now, a new animal study points to a gene that is important for the earliest development of basic social behaviors.
The work also suggests that exposure to certain drugs and environmental risk factors during embryonic development can cause changes to this gene, leading to alterations in social behavior that are similar to those found in individuals who have autism. Much to their surprise, the researchers also found they could reverse some of the effects using an experimental drug.
“This study helps us understand at the molecular level why sociability is disrupted during the very earliest stages of life,” says Randall T. Peterson, Ph.D., the corresponding author of the study and dean of the University of Utah College of Pharmacy. “It also gives us an opportunity to explore potential treatments that could restore sociability in these animals and, perhaps in time, eventually in humans as well.”
More broadly, their findings suggest that the gene — TOP2a — controls a large network of genes that are known to increase the risk of autism. It also may serve as a link between genetic and environmental factors that contribute to onset of disorder, Peterson adds.
The study, conducted by University of Utah Health researchers and colleagues nationwide, appears in the Nov. 23 issue of Science Advances.
Source: Read Full Article