Nysha Recent News

Correlation between ‘social gene’ activity, social skills

July 5, 2016

By Mendy Hecht, Hamaspik Gazette

Oxytocin, a hormone critical to human socializing and bonding, especially in families, is produced by the gene OXT.  People with more oxytocin are more social, talkative, loving and attuned to others’ emotions.

In genetic tests on 120 volunteers, genetic researchers at the University of Georgia have now found a correlation between OXT’s production of oxytocin and volunteers’ social skills.

The scientists were specifically studying methylation, a process that suppresses gene activity.  They found that volunteers with more methylation of the OXT gene, and hence less oxytocin, had less social skills—and more social anxiety.

Using brain scans, researchers also found that volunteers with more OXT methylation had less activity, and less gray matter, in brain areas associated with social-cognitive processing. 

Researchers also found that people with more OXT methylation were less able to correctly describe the emotions on people’s faces in videos and pictures.

While the study does prove a cause-and-effect link between OXT methylation, the resulting less oxytocin, and poor social skills, “All of our tests indicate that the OXT gene plays an important role in social behavior and brain function,” said researcher Brian W. Haas, a UGA psychology professor.

The findings are another piece in the puzzle of autism research; people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) typically have difficulty reading the social and emotional cues on people’s faces.

The study was published June 20 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Epilepsy tied to higher risk of autism

In a Swedish study published recently in Neurology, patients with epilepsy may be at higher risk of developing autism spectrum disorder (ASD), particularly if their disease was diagnosed in childhood.

The large population-based study found that patients with epilepsy had a ten-fold increased risk of future ASD.  That risk was especially high in those diagnosed with epilepsy in childhood.

The study consisted of 85,201 individuals with epilepsy and 425,760 controls.  Ultimately 1,381 (1.6%) were diagnosed with ASD over a median of 5.5 years, while 700 (0.2%) controls were diagnosed with ASD over a median of 6.1 years.

Input sought by federal autism panel

The Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC), a federal autism advisory panel, is now soliciting public feedback and comments as it prepares for the first time in years to update the government’s priorities in addressing the developmental disorder.

The IACC panel, comprised of federal officials and members of the autism community, is tasked to create and annually update the government’s autism research, services and policy priorities.

In a notice published June in the Federal Register, the IACC said it wants comments from people with autism, family members, service providers and advocates as it gears up for its 2016 update.

Comments should be related to the IACC’s seven primary topics: screening and diagnosis, underlying biology of autism, risk factors, treatments and interventions, services, lifespan issues and surveillance and infrastructure.

Originally authorized by the Combating Autism Act of 2006, the IACC has been slow to reboot since it was reauthorized under the Autism CARES Act of 2014.  The last update to the panel’s strategic plan occurred in 2013.

Comments will be accepted through July 29.

“Brain training” company fined by FTC

Colorado-based LearningRx, a “brain training” company that claimed its programs could improve autism and other brain-related diagnoses, agreed in federal court to pay a $200,000 fine to settle federal charges of making false claims.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC)’s Bureau of Consumer Protection had initially secured a judgement of $4 million against LearningRx in Colorado’s U.S. District Court.

According to the FTC, Learning Rx advertised the medically false claims that the programs offered at their 80-plus franchise locations nationwide were clinically proven to improve autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, Alzheimer’s disease, stroke and other conditions.

The FTC said that those claims were promoted in print and radio ads, direct mail pieces and in online ads targeted toward consumers searching for “autism cure” and “Asperger cure”.

Under the settlement, LearningRx also agreed to stop making several false and unsubstantiated claims about their programs.

“Companies that say they can significantly improve serious health conditions or how your brain functions in everyday situations need to back up those claims with sound science,” said Bureau of Consumer Protection director Jessica Rich.