New Signaling Pathway found in individuals with Autism

A recently released study found mutations in individuals with autism that block the action of molecules made by the brain.

The mutations refer to the endocannabinoid signaling pathway that act on the same receptors that are affected by the Marijuana drug. The findings implicate endocannabinoids, in the development of some autism cases and point to potential treatment strategies.

“Endocannabinoids are molecules that are critical regulators of normal neuronal activity and are important for many brain functions,” says first author Dr. Csaba Földy, of Stanford University Medical School. “By conducting studies in mice, we found that neuroligin-3, a protein that is mutated in some individuals with autism, is important for relaying endocannabinoid signals that tone down communication between neurons.”

“These findings point out an unexpected link between a protein implicated in autism and a signaling system that previously had not been considered to be particularly important for autism,” says senior author Dr. Thomas Südhof, also of Stanford. “Thus, the findings open up a new area of research and may suggest novel strategies for understanding the underlying causes of complex brain disorders.”

The research underscores the complex nature of the autism spectrum disorders.


Csaba Földy, Robert C. Malenka, Thomas C. Südhof. Autism-Associated Neuroligin-3 Mutations Commonly Disrupt Tonic Endocannabinoid Signaling. Neuron, 2013 (in press) DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2013.02.036

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