Top of page
Health

New study may explain why people with autism are often highly sensitive to light and noise

a teenage with autism relaxing with rocking chair
Photo: jjwarren97

People with autism are highly sensitive to light, noise, and other sensory input. A new study in mice reveals a neural circuit that appears to underlie this hypersensitivity, offering a possible strategy for developing new treatments.

MIT and Brown University neuroscientists found that mice lacking a protein called Shank3, which has been previously linked with autism, were more sensitive to a touch on their whiskers than genetically normal mice. These Shank3-deficient mice also had overactive excitatory neurons in a region of the brain called the somatosensory cortex, which the researchers believe accounts for their over-reactivity.

There are currently no treatments for sensory hypersensitivity, but the researchers believe that uncovering the cellular basis of this sensitivity may help scientists to develop potential treatments.

“We hope our studies can point us to the right direction for the next generation of treatment development,” says Guoping Feng, the James W. and Patricia Poitras Professor of Neuroscience at MIT and a member of MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research.

Feng and Christopher Moore, a professor of neuroscience at Brown University, are the senior authors of the paper, which appears today in Nature Neuroscience. McGovern Institute research scientist Qian Chen and Brown postdoc Christopher Deister are the lead authors of the study.

The Shank3 protein is important for the function of synapses—connections that allow neurons to communicate with each other. Feng has previously shown that mice lacking the Shank3 gene display many traits associated with autism, including avoidance of social interaction, and compulsive, repetitive behavior.

In the new study, Feng and his colleagues set out to study whether these mice also show sensory hypersensitivity. For mice, one of the most important sources of sensory input is the whiskers, which help them to navigate and to maintain their balance, among other functions.

 

You might also like

blind man with guide dog blind man with guide dog

New support guides launched for adults with disabilities

The Department of Health has launched two new guides to…

nurse helping elderly man walk nurse helping elderly man walk

Budget cuts devastate stroke survivors in New South Wales

Stroke Foundation is calling the New South Wales Government to…

doctor with face mask talking to patient doctor with face mask talking to patient

New package to ease pressure on NSW Emergency Departments

​​An Emergency Department relief package announced by the Minns Labor…

kid boy Upset, sitting in the dark kid boy Upset, sitting in the dark

Childhood maltreatment accounts to 40% of mental health conditions

The mental health conditions examined were anxiety, depression, harmful alcohol…