An important developmental task is to learn to recognize another person as a source of information and to utilize this information as a method of learning about the surrounding world. This socially guided form of learning, referred to as social referencing, is critical for the development of children’s understanding of other people, themselves and their surrounding world. In the present project, the regulatory function of social referencing was examined in two genetic disorders that are characterized by differing patterns of socio-cognitive development: Down syndrome (DS) and Williams syndrome (WS).
Participants were 20 children with DS and 20 children with WS aged 42 to 71 months, matched on chronological age and gender. Each child participated in four studies: one study in which we examined performance in a social referencing paradigm and three studies in which we considered performance on tasks designed to tap each of three component abilities (initiating eye contact, gaze following and emotional responsivity) important for success in social referencing.
The majority of children in both groups demonstrated positive behavioral responses regarding the stimulus in the Social Referencing task when the adult communicated a joyful message but did not regulate their own behavior in accordance with the adult’s expression of fear. Between-group differences were observed in both conditions, with most differences indicating more advanced socio-communicative competence for children with DS than for children with WS even though the overall intellectual abilities and receptive language abilities of the children with WS were significantly higher than were those of the children with DS. The results of follow-up studies indicated that children with DS were more likely to initiate eye contact (unsolicited) and to follow another person’s gaze in triadic situations than were children with WS. Neither group regulated their behavior in response to expressions of fear.
These findings provide new insight into the development of the social cognitive phenotypes associated with DS and WS. These social cognitive differences found during the preschool years likely contribute to the differing phenotypes observed later in life between individuals with DS and individuals with WS.
Down syndrome; Eye contact; Emotional responsivity; Gaze following; Intellectual disability; Joint attention; Social referencing; Williams-Beuren syndrome
Neurodevelopmental disorders are classified as diseases that cause abnormal functions of the brain or central nervous system. Children with neurodevelopmental disorders show impaired language and speech abilities, learning and memory damage, and poor motor skills. However, we still know very little about the molecular etiology of these disorders. Recent evidence implicates the bromodomain-containing proteins (BCPs) in the initiation and development of neurodevelopmental disorders. BCPs have a particular domain, the bromodomain (Brd), which was originally identified as specifically binding acetyl-lysine residues at the N-terminus of histone proteins in vitro and in vivo. Other domains of BCPs are responsible for binding partner proteins to form regulatory complexes. Once these complexes are assembled, BCPs alter chromosomal states and regulate gene expression. Some BCP complexes bind nucleosomes, are involved in basal transcription regulation, and influence the transcription of many genes. However, most BCPs are involved in targeting. For example, some BCPs function as a recruitment platform or scaffold through their Brds-binding targeting sites. Others are recruited to form a complex to bind the targeting sites of their partners. The regulation mediated by these proteins is especially critical during normal and abnormal development. Mutant BCPs or dysfunctional BCP-containing complexes are implicated in the initiation and development of neurodevelopmental disorders. However, the pathogenic molecular mechanisms are not fully understood. In this review, we focus on the roles of regulatory BCPs associated with neurodevelopmental disorders, including mental retardation, Fragile X syndrome (FRX), Williams syndrome (WS), Rett syndrome and Rubinstein-Taybi syndrome (RTS). A better understanding of the molecular pathogenesis, based upon the roles of BCPs, will lead to screening of targets for the treatment of neurodevelopmental disorders.
Bromodomain; Chromatin acetylation; Transcriptional regulation; Neurodevelopmental disorder
Neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1) is a monogenic disorder associated with cognitive impairments. In order to understand how mutations in the NF1 gene impact brain structure it is essential to characterize in detail the brain structural abnormalities in patients with NF1. Previous studies have reported contradictory findings and have focused only on volumetric measurements. Here, we investigated the volumes of subcortical structures and the composite dimensions of the cortex through analysis of cortical volume, cortical thickness, cortical surface area and gyrification.
We studied 14 children with NF1 and 14 typically developing children matched for age, gender, IQ and right/left-handedness. Regional subcortical volumes and cortical gyral measurements were obtained using the FreeSurfer software. Between-group differences were evaluated while controlling for the increase in total intracranial volume observed in NF1.
Subcortical analysis revealed disproportionately larger thalami, right caudate and middle corpus callosum in patients with NF1. Cortical analyses on volume, thickness and surface area were however not indicative of significant alterations in patients. Interestingly, patients with NF1 had significantly lower gyrification indices than typically developing children primarily in the frontal and temporal lobes, but also affecting the insula, cingulate cortex, parietal and occipital regions.
The neuroanatomic abnormalities observed were localized to specific brain regions, indicating that particular areas might constitute selective targets for NF1 gene mutations. Furthermore, the lower gyrification indices were accompanied by a disproportionate increase in brain size without the corresponding increase in folding in patients with NF1. Taken together these findings suggest that specific neurodevelopmental processes, such as gyrification, are more vulnerable to NF1 dysfunction than others. The identified changes in brain organization are consistent with the patterns of cognitive dysfunction in the NF1 phenotype.
Brain structure; Gyrification; Morphometry; MRI; Neurodevelopmental disorders; Neurofibromatosis type 1
The editors of Journal of Neurodevelopmental Disorders would like to thank all of our reviewers who have contributed to the journal in volume 4 (2012). High quality and timely reviews are critical to the overall quality of the journal. We are committed to providing a unique and important outlet for scholarship regarding neurodevelopmental disorders and are indebted to the outstanding reviewers who have contributed their time over the last year in helping us to reach this goal.
Fragile X syndrome (FXS) is the most common cause of inherited intellectual disability and non-idiopathic autism. Individuals with FXS present with a behavioral phenotype of specific and selective deficits in an array of cognitive skills. Disruption of number processing and arithmetic abilities in higher-functioning adults and female adolescents with FXS has been well established. Still, both numerical skills and developmentally antecedent cognitive processes have just begun to be investigated in toddlers with FXS. The goal of the current study was to assess how very young children with FXS respond to ordinal relationships among numerical magnitudes.
Infrared eye-tracking was used to explore infants’ novelty recognition during passive viewing of ordinal numerical sequences; t-tests were used to analyze group differences in looking time.
Ordinal recognition of numerical magnitudes is significantly impaired in young toddlers with FXS.
This study is the first to experimentally evaluate early number sense and ordinal recognition in toddlers with FXS, and our findings reveal that ordinal recognition of numerical magnitudes is significantly impaired in young toddlers with FXS, suggesting that later arithmetic impairments associated with FXS may have their origins in a developmental impairment of this more basic aspect of numerical cognition.
Approximate number system; Development; Magnitude
Maternal alcohol consumption is known to adversely affect fetal neurodevelopment. While it is known that alcohol dose and timing play a role in the cognitive and behavioral changes associated with prenatal alcohol exposure, it is unclear what developmental processes are disrupted that may lead to these phenotypes.
Mice (n=6 per treatment per developmental time) were exposed to two acute doses of alcohol (5 g/kg) at neurodevelopmental times representing the human first, second, or third trimester equivalent. Mice were reared to adulthood and changes to their adult brain transcriptome were assessed using expression arrays. These were then categorized based on Gene Ontology annotations, canonical pathway associations, and relationships to interacting molecules.
The results suggest that ethanol disrupts biological processes that are actively occurring at the time of exposure. These include cell proliferation during trimester one, cell migration and differentiation during trimester two, and cellular communication and neurotransmission during trimester three. Further, although ethanol altered a distinct set of genes depending on developmental timing, many of these show interrelatedness and can be associated with one another via ‘hub’ molecules and pathways such as those related to huntingtin and brain-derived neurotrophic factor.
These changes to brain gene expression represent a ‘molecular footprint’ of neurodevelopmental alcohol exposure that is long-lasting and correlates with active processes disrupted at the time of exposure. This study provides further support that there is no neurodevelopmental time when alcohol cannot adversely affect the developing brain.
Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders; Development; Brain; Mouse; Gene expression; Expression array
Hypermethylation of the fragile X mental retardation 1 gene FMR1 results in decreased expression of FMR1 protein FMRP, which is the underlying cause of Fragile X syndrome – an incurable neurological disorder characterized by mental retardation, anxiety, epileptic episodes and autism. Disease-modifying therapies for Fragile X syndrome are thus aimed at treatments that increase the FMRP expression levels in the brain. We describe the development and characterization of two assays for simple and quantitative detection of FMRP protein.
Antibodies coupled to fluorophores that can be employed for time-resolved Förster’s resonance energy transfer were used for the development of homogeneous, one-step immunodetection. Purified recombinant human FMRP and patient cells were used as control samples for assay development.
The assays require small sample amounts, display high stability and reproducibility and can be used to quantify endogenous FMRP in human fibroblasts and peripheral blood mononuclear cells. Application of the assays to FXS patient cells showed that the methods can be used both for the characterization of clinical FXS patient samples as well as primary readouts in drug-discovery screens aimed at increasing endogenous FMRP levels in human cells.
This study provides novel quantitative detection methods for FMRP in FXS patient cells. Importantly, due to the simplicity of the assay protocol, the method is suited to be used in screening applications to identify compounds or genetic interventions that result in increased FMRP levels in human cells.
Fragile X syndrome; FMRP; Time-resolved Förster’s resonance energy transfer; Immunoassay
Features of the Broad Autism Phenotype (BAP) are disproportionately prevalent in parents of a child with autism, highlighting familial patterns indicative of heritability. It is unclear, however, whether the presence of BAP features in both parents confers an increased liability for autism. The current study explores whether the presence of BAP features in two biological parents occurs more frequently in parents of a child with autism relative to comparison parents, whether parental pairs of a child with autism more commonly consist of one or two parents with BAP features, and whether these features are associated with severity of autism behaviors in probands.
Seven hundred eleven parents of a child with an autism spectrum disorder and 981 comparison parents completed the Broad Autism Phenotype Questionnaire. Parents of a child with autism also completed the Social Communication Questionnaire.
Although parental pairs of a child with autism were more likely than comparison parental pairs to have both parents characterized by the presence of the BAP, they more commonly consisted of a single parent with BAP features. The presence of the BAP in parents was associated with the severity of autism behaviors in probands, with the lowest severity occurring for children of parental pairs in which neither parent exhibited a BAP feature. Severity did not differ between children of two affected parents and those of just one.
Collectively, these findings indicate that parental pairs of children with autism frequently consist of a single parent with BAP characteristics and suggest that future studies searching for implicated genes may benefit from a more narrow focus that identifies the transmitting parent. The evidence of intergenerational transmission reported here also provides further confirmation of the high heritability of autism that is unaccounted for by the contribution of de novo mutations currently emphasized in the field of autism genetics.
Autism; Broad autism phenotype; Endophenotype; Assessment; Genetics; Personality
Following from previous work suggesting that neurobehavioral features distinguish fragile X and idiopathic variants of autism, we investigated the relationships between four forms of repetitive behavior (stereotypy, self-injury, compulsivity, ritual behavior) and caudate nuclei volume in two groups: boys with fragile X syndrome, a subset of whom met criteria for autism, and a comparison group of boys with idiopathic autism.
Bilateral caudate nuclei volumes were measured in boys aged 3 to 6 years with fragile X syndrome (n = 41), the subset of boys with fragile X syndrome and autism (n = 16), and boys with idiopathic autism (n = 30). Repetitive behaviors were measured using the Repetitive Behavior Scales-Revised.
For boys with idiopathic autism, left caudate volume was modestly associated with self-injury, while both compulsive and ritual behaviors showed significant positive correlations with bilateral caudate nuclei volumes, replicating previous results. For boys with fragile X syndrome, there was no such association between caudate volume and compulsive behaviors. However, we did identify significant positive correlations between self-injury total scores and number of self-injury topographies with bilateral caudate nuclei volumes.
These findings suggest a specific role for the caudate nucleus in the early pathogenesis of self-injurious behavior associated with both idiopathic autism and fragile X syndrome. Results further indicate that the caudate may be differentially associated with compulsive behavior, highlighting the utility of isolating discrete brain-behavior associations within and between subtypes of autism spectrum disorder.
Autism; Caudate; Fragile X syndrome; Repetitive behavior; Self-injurious behavior
Minocycline is a tetracycline derivative that readily crosses the blood brain barrier and appears to have beneficial effects on neuroinflammation, microglial activation and neuroprotection in a variety of neurological disorders. Both microglial activation and neuroinflammation have been reported to be associated with autism. The study was designed to evaluate the effects of minocycline treatment on markers of neuroinflammation and autism symptomatology in children with autism and a history of developmental regression.
Eleven children were enrolled in an open-label trial of six months of minocycline (1.4 mg/kg). Ten children completed the trial. Behavioral measures were collected and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), serum and plasma were obtained before and at the end of minocycline treatment and were analyzed for markers of neuroinflammation.
Clinical improvements were negligible. The laboratory assays demonstrated significant changes in the expression profile of the truncated form of brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) (P = 0.042) and hepatic growth factor (HGF) (P = 0.028) in CSF. In serum, the ratio of the truncated BDNF form and α-2 macroglobulin (α-2 M), was also significantly lower (P = 0.028) while the mature BDNF/α-2 M ratio revealed no difference following treatment. Only the chemokine CXCL8 (IL-8) was significantly different (P = 0.047) in serum while no significant changes were observed in CSF or serum in chemokines such as CCL2 (MCP-1) or cytokines such as TNF-α, CD40L, IL-6, IFN-γ and IL-1β when pre- and post-treatment levels of these proteins were compared. No significant pre- and post-treatment changes were seen in the profiles of plasma metalloproteinases, putative targets of the effects of minocycline.
Changes in the pre- and post-treatment profiles of BDNF in CSF and blood, HGF in CSF and CXCL8 (IL-8) in serum, suggest that minocycline may have effects in the CNS by modulating the production of neurotrophic growth factors. However, in this small group of children, no clinical improvements were observed during or after the six months of minocycline administration.
Autism; Minocycline; Microglia; Neuroinflammation; Clinical trial; Cytokines; Chemokines; Metalloproteinases; Neurotrophins; BDNF
Death receptor 6 (DR6) is highly expressed in the human brain: it has been shown to induce axon pruning and neuron death via distinct caspases and to mediate axonal degeneration through binding to N-terminal β amyloid precursor protein (N-APP).
We investigated the expression of DR6 during prenatal and postnatal development in human hippocampus and temporal cortex by immunocytochemistry and Western blot analysis (118 normal human brain specimens; 9 to 41 gestational weeks; 1 day to 7 months postnatally; 3 to 91 years). To investigate the role of N-APP/DR6/caspase 6 pathway in the development of hippocampal Alzheimer’s disease (AD)-associated pathology, we examined DR6 immunoreactivity (IR) in the developing hippocampus from patients with Down syndrome (DS; 48 brain specimens; 14 to 41 gestational weeks; 7 days to 8 months postnatally; 15 to 64 years) and in adults with DS and AD.
DR6 was highly expressed in human adult hippocampus and temporal cortex: we observed consistent similar temporal and spatial expression in both control and DS brain. Western blot analysis of total homogenates of temporal cortex and hippocampus showed developmental regulation of DR6. In the hippocampus, DR6 IR was first apparent in the stratum lacunosum-moleculare at 16 weeks of gestation, followed by stratum oriens, radiatum, pyramidale (CA1 to CA4) and molecular layer of the dentate gyrus between 21 and 23 gestational weeks, reaching a pattern similar to adult hippocampus around birth. Increased DR6 expression in dystrophic neurites was detected focally in a 15-year-old DS patient. Abnormal DR6 expression pattern, with increased expression within dystrophic neurites in and around amyloid plaques was observed in adult DS patients with widespread AD-associated neurodegeneration and was similar to the pattern observed in AD hippocampus. Double-labeling experiments demonstrated the colocalization, in dystrophic neurites, of DR6 with APP. We also observed colocalization with hyper-phosphorylated Tau and with caspase 6 (increased in hippocampus with AD pathology) in plaque-associated dystrophic neurites and within the white matter.
These findings demonstrate a developmental regulation of DR6 in human hippocampus and suggest an abnormal activation of the N-APP/DR6/caspase 6 pathway, which can contribute to initiation or progression of hippocampal AD-associated pathology.
Alzheimer’s disease; APP; Death receptor 6; Development; Down syndrome; Hippocampus; Neurodegeneration
Working memory is a temporary storage system under attentional control. It is believed to play a central role in online processing of complex cognitive information and may also play a role in social cognition and interpersonal interactions. Adolescents with a disorder on the autism spectrum display problems in precisely these domains. Social impairments, communication difficulties, and repetitive interests and activities are core domains of autism spectrum disorders (ASD), and executive function problems are often seen throughout the spectrum. As the main cognitive theories of ASD, including the theory of mind deficit hypotheses, weak central coherence account, and the executive dysfunction theory, still fail to explain the broad spectrum of symptoms, a new perspective on the etiology of ASD is needed. Deficits in working memory are central to many theories of psychopathology, and are generally linked to frontal-lobe dysfunction. This article will review neuropsychological and (functional) brain imaging studies on working memory in adolescents with ASD. Although still disputed, it is concluded that within the working memory system specific problems of spatial working memory are often seen in adolescents with ASD. These problems increase when information is more complex and greater demands on working memory are made. Neuroimaging studies indicate a more global working memory processing or connectivity deficiency, rather than a focused deficit in the prefrontal cortex. More research is needed to relate these working memory difficulties and neuroimaging results in ASD to the behavioral difficulties as seen in individuals with a disorder on the autism spectrum.
Working memory; Adolescents; Autism; Neuropsychology; Neuroimaging
The dimensional approach to autism spectrum disorder (ASD) considers ASD as the extreme of a dimension traversing through the entire population. We explored the potential utility of electroencephalography (EEG) functional connectivity as a biomarker. We hypothesized that individual differences in autistic traits of typical subjects would involve a long-range connectivity diminution within the delta band.
Resting-state EEG functional connectivity was measured for 74 neurotypical subjects. All participants also provided a questionnaire (Social Responsiveness Scale, SRS) that was completed by an informant who knows the participant in social settings. We conducted multivariate regression between the SRS score and functional connectivity in all EEG frequency bands. We explored modulations of network graph metrics characterizing the optimality of a network using the SRS score.
Our results show a decay in functional connectivity mainly within the delta and theta bands (the lower part of the EEG spectrum) associated with an increasing number of autistic traits. When inspecting the impact of autistic traits on the global organization of the functional network, we found that the optimal properties of the network are inversely related to the number of autistic traits, suggesting that the autistic dimension, throughout the entire population, modulates the efficiency of functional brain networks.
EEG functional connectivity at low frequencies and its associated network properties may be associated with some autistic traits in the general population.
Autism spectrum disorders; Electroencephalography; Autistic traits; Synchronization likelihood; Small world; Long-range connections
Several proteins involved in epigenetic regulation cause syndromic neurodevelopmental disorders when human genes are mutated. More general involvement of epigenetic mechanisms in neurodevelopmental phenotypes is unclear.
In an attempt to determine whether DNA methylation differentiates clinical subgroups, profiling was performed on bisulfite converted DNA from lymphoblastoid cell lines (LCLs) in discovery (n = 20) and replication (n = 40) cohorts of females with Rett syndrome (RTT; n = 18), autism (AUT; n = 17), seizure disorder (SEZ; n = 6), and controls (CTL; n = 19) using Illumina HumanMethylation27 arrays. TAC1 CpGs were validated using a Sequenom EpiTYPER assay and expression was measured in LCLs and postmortem brain. Chromatin immunoprecipitation was performed in HEK cells. Cells were treated with valproic acid and MeCP2 binding was assessed.
Two female-only cohorts were analyzed. DNA methylation profiling in a discovery cohort identified 40 CpGs that exhibited statistically significant differential methylation (≥15%) between clinical groups (P <0.01). Hierarchical clustering and principal components analysis suggested neurodevelopmental groups were distinct from CTL, but not from each other. In a larger and more heterogeneous replication cohort, these 40 CpG sites suggested no clear difference between clinical groups. Pooled analysis of DNA methylation across all 60 samples suggested only four differentially methylated CpG sites (P <0.0005), including TAC1. TAC1 promoter CpG hypermethylation was validated in AUT and SEZ (P <0.005). Analyzed for the first time in postmortem brain, TAC1 expression was reduced in cingulate cortex in RTT and AUT+SEZ (P = 0.003). However, no significant difference in TAC1 promoter CpG methylation was detected in RTT and AUT+SEZ brains. Additional molecular analyses revealed that MeCP2 binds directly to the TAC1 promoter and is sensitive to antiepileptic drug treatment.
These data suggest that DNA methylation is not widely altered in RTT, consistent with subtle changes in gene expression previously observed. However, TAC1 may be an important target for further functional analyses in RTT. Studies of larger sample cohorts using primary cells that also consider shared clinical features and drug treatments may be required to address apparent subtle disruptions of DNA methylation in neurodevelopmental disorders.
DNA methylation; MeCP2; Epigenetics; Autism; Rett syndrome; Epilepsy
Adverse intrauterine circumstances can result in abnormal brain development, and can contribute to many neurological disorders such as cerebral palsy and cognitive and behavioral deficits. These neurological problems are caused by conditions that cause chronic placental insufficiency (CPI), such as hypoxia and acidemia. Hypoxia has been implicated in structural alterations of the cerebellum during development; however, the changes to the cerebellar external granular layer (EGL) induced by chronic prenatal hypoxia are not well understood. We therefore investigated the effect of chronic prenatal hypoxia on the development of mature neurons in the EGL using the guinea pig CPI model.
Unilateral uterine artery ligation was performed at 30 to 32 days of gestation (dg) - with term defined as approximately 67 dg. At 50 dg, 60 dg, and one week after birth, fetuses and newborns were sacrificed and assigned to either the growth-restricted (GR) or control (no ligation) group. After fixation, dissection, and sectioning of cerebellar tissue from these animals, immunohistochemistry was performed with antibodies raised to hypoxia-induced factor 1α (Hif1α), Pax6, NeuroD, and NeuN.
The induction of hypoxia was confirmed by the presence of Hif1α immunoreactivity in the EGL of the GR (but not control) fetuses. The only other cellular immunoreactivity found in any of the tissues was to the NeuN antibody, which is a marker of mature neurons. The proportion of NeuN-immunoreactive (NeuN-IR) cells to the total number of cells in the EGL did not differ between the GR and control groups at 50 and 60 dg. The density of NeuN-IR cells was greater in GR fetuses than in controls at 60 dg (P < 0.05) but not at 50 dg. At one week after birth, the EGL was just one cell thick, and only a few NeuN-IR cells could be observed in both groups. TUNEL assays performed to enable the evaluation of apoptosis in the cerebellar EGL revealed that cell death was not affected by hypoxia at 50 dg, 60 dg, and one week after birth.
These findings indicate that chronic prenatal hypoxia affects the process of neuronal production late in fetal life, but that this effect does not persist postnatally.
Hypoxia; Cerebellum; Guinea pig
Maladaptive behavior has been reported as a phenotypical feature in Prader–Willi syndrome (PWS). It severely limits social adaptation and the quality of life of children and adults with the syndrome. Different factors have been linked with the intensity and form of these behavioral disturbances but there is no consensus about the cause. Consequently, there is still controversy regarding management strategies and there is a need for new data.
The behavior of 100 adults with PWS attending a dedicated center was assessed using the Developmental Behavior Checklist for Adults (DBC-A) and the PWS-specific Hyperphagia Questionnaire. The DBC-A was completed separately by trained caregivers at the center and relatives or caregivers in a natural setting. Genotype, gender, age, degree of obesity and cognitive impairment were analyzed as variables with a hypothetical influence on behavioral features.
Patients showed a relatively high rate of behavioral disturbances other than hyperphagia. Disruptive and social relating were the highest scoring DBC-A subscales whereas anxiety/antisocial and self-absorbed were the lowest. When hospital caregiver and natural caregiver scores were compared, scores for the latter were higher for all subscales except for disruptive and anxiety/antisocial. These effects of institutional management were underlined. In the DBC-A, 22 items have descriptive indications of PWS behavior and were used for further comparisons and correlation analysis. In contrast to previous reports, rates of disturbed behavior were lower in patients with a deletion genotype. However, the behavioral profile was similar for both genotypes. No differences were found in any measurement when comparing type I and type II deletions. The other analyzed variables showed little relevance.
Significant rates of behavioral disorders were highlighted and their typology described in a large cohort of adults with PWS. The deletion genotype was related to a lower severity of symptoms. Some major behavioral problems, such as hyperphagia, may be well controlled if living circumstances are adapted to the specific requirements of individuals with PWS.
Prader–Willi syndrome; Behavior; Genotype; Adults
Down’s syndrome (DS) is the most common genetic cause of intellectual disability. People with DS are at an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) compared to the general population. Neuroimaging studies of AD have focused on medial temporal structures; however, to our knowledge, no in vivo case–control study exists comparing the anatomy of dementia in DS to people with AD in the general population. We therefore compared the in vivo brain anatomy of people with DS and dementia (DS+) to those with AD in the general population.
Using MRI in 192 adults, we compared the volume of whole brain matter, lateral ventricles, temporal lobes and hippocampus in DS subjects with and without dementia (DS+, DS-), to each other and to three non-DS groups. These included one group of individuals with AD and two groups of controls (each age-matched for their respective DS and general population AD cohorts).
AD and DS+ subjects showed significant reductions in the volume of the whole brain, hippocampus and temporal lobes and a significant elevation in the volume of the lateral ventricle, compared to their non-demented counterparts. People with DS+ had a smaller reduction in temporal lobe volume compared to individuals with AD.
DS+ and AD subjects have a significant reduction in volume of the same brain regions. We found preliminary evidence that DS individuals may be more sensitive to tissue loss than others and have less ‘cognitive reserve’.
Dementia; Imaging; Intellectual disability
Recent studies have implicated potentially significant roles for astrocytes in the pathogenesis of neurodevelopmental disorders. Astrocytes undergo a dramatic maturation process following early differentiation from which typical morphology and important functions are acquired. Despite significant progress in understanding their early differentiation, very little is known about how astrocytes become functionally mature. In addition, whether functional maturation of astrocytes is disrupted in neurodevelopmental disorders and the consequences of this disruption remains essentially unknown. In this review, we discuss our perspectives about how astrocyte developmental maturation is regulated, and how disruption of the astrocyte functional maturation process, especially alterations in their ability to regulate glutamate homeostasis, may alter synaptic physiology and contribute to the pathogenesis of neurodevelopmental disorders.
Astrocyte; Developmental maturation; Neuronal to astrocyte signaling; Glutamate; Glutamate transporter; GLT1; Developmental disorder
Intracranial arachnoid cysts have been shown to yield cognitive impairment over a range of basic mental functions, and these functions normalize after surgical cyst decompression. We wanted to investigate whether such cysts may also impair executive cognitive functions, and whether surgical cyst decompression leads to an improvement.
This study included 22 patients with arachnoid cysts and 13 control patients scheduled for low back surgery. All subjects were tested with Delis-Kaplan Executive Function System (D-KEFS) tests, assessing executive function 1 day before surgery and a minimum of 3 months after surgery. The data were analyzed according to scaled score computations based on raw scores provided by D-KEFS, adjusted for age, gender, and educational norms.
Preoperatively, the patients with cysts group performed worse than the control group in verbal knowledge, mental flexibility, inhibitory capacity, problem solving, and planning skills. Postoperatively, the patients with cysts group significantly improved performance and were no longer different from the control group in the following subtests: inhibition, inhibition/switching, letter fluency, category switching, and total switching accuracy. The patients with cysts group also significantly improved performance in color naming, category fluency, and in the Tower test, but nevertheless remained impaired at follow-up compared with the control group. The control group did not show a similar improvement, except for the Tower test. Cyst size or postoperative volume reduction did not correlate with cognitive performance or postoperative improvement. Patients with left-sided temporal cysts performed poorer than patients with right-sided cysts on a complex verbal task demanding mental flexibility.
Arachnoid cysts seem to impair not only basic cognition, but also executive functions. Most of this impairment appears to be reversible after surgical cyst decompression. These results may have implications for future preoperative considerations for patients with intracranial arachnoid cysts.
Arachnoid cysts; Cognition; Cognitive control; Executive functions; Intellectual disability; Neuropsychology; Neuropsychiatry; Neurosurgery
From a young age the typical development of social functioning relies upon the allocation of attention to socially relevant information, which in turn allows experience at processing such information and thus enhances social cognition. As such, research has attempted to identify the developmental processes that are derailed in some neuro-developmental disorders that impact upon social functioning. Williams syndrome (WS) and autism are disorders of development that are characterized by atypical yet divergent social phenotypes and atypicalities of attention to people.
We used eye tracking to explore how individuals with WS and autism attended to, and subsequently interpreted, an actor’s eye gaze cue within a social scene. Images were presented for 3 seconds, initially with an instruction simply to look at the picture. The images were then shown again, with the participant asked to identify the object being looked at. Allocation of eye gaze in each condition was analyzed by analysis of variance and accuracy of identification was compared with t tests.
Participants with WS allocated more gaze time to face and eyes than their matched controls, both with and without being asked to identify the item being looked at; while participants with autism spent less time on face and eyes in both conditions. When cued to follow gaze, participants with WS increased gaze to the correct targets; those with autism looked more at the face and eyes but did not increase gaze to the correct targets, while continuing to look much more than their controls at implausible targets. Both groups identified fewer objects than their controls.
The atypicalities found are likely to be entwined with the deficits shown in interpreting social cognitive cues from the images. WS and autism are characterized by atypicalities of social attention that impact upon socio-cognitive expertise, but, importantly, the type of atypicality is syndrome specific.
Williams syndrome; Autism; Gaze behavior; Social attention; Social cognition
The profile of cognitive and behavioral variation observed in individuals with fragile X syndrome (FXS), the most common known cause of inherited intellectual impairment, suggests aberrant functioning of specific brain systems. Research investigating animal models of FXS, characterized by limited or lack of fragile X mental retardation protein, (FMRP), has linked brain dysfunction to deficits in the cholinergic and glutamatergic systems. Thus, we sought to examine in vivo levels of neurometabolites related to cholinergic and glutamatergic functioning in males and females with FXS.
The study participants included 18 adolescents and young adults with FXS, and a comparison group of 18 individuals without FXS matched for age, sex and general intellectual functioning. Proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) was used to assess neurometabolite levels in the caudate nucleus, a region known to be greatly enlarged and involved in abnormal brain circuitry in individuals with FXS. A general linear model framework was used to compare group differences in metabolite concentration.
We observed a decrease in choline (P = 0.027) and in glutamate + glutamine (P = 0.032) in the caudate nucleus of individuals with FXS, relative to individuals in the comparison group.
This study provides evidence of metabolite differences in the caudate nucleus, a brain region of potential importance to our understanding of the neural deficits underlying FXS. These metabolic differences may be related to aberrant receptor signaling seen in animal models. Furthermore, identification of the specific neurometabolites involved in FXS dysfunction could provide critical biomarkers for the design and efficacy tracking of disease-specific pharmacological treatments.
Fragile X syndrome; Magnetic resonance spectroscopy; Choline; Glutamate; Caudate nucleus
Many children who are late talkers go on to develop normal language, but others go on to have longer-term language difficulties. In this study, we considered which factors were predictive of persistent problems in late talkers.
Parental report of expressive vocabulary at 18 months of age was used to select 26 late talkers and 70 average talkers, who were assessed for language and cognitive ability at 20 months of age. Follow-up at 4 years of age was carried out for 24 late and 58 average talkers. A psychometric test battery was used to categorize children in terms of language status (unimpaired or impaired) and nonverbal ability (normal range or more than 1 SD below average). The vocabulary and non-word repetition skills of the accompanying parent were also assessed.
Among the late talkers, seven (29%) met our criteria for specific language impairment (SLI) at 4 years of age, and a further two (8%) had low nonverbal ability. In the group of average talkers, eight (14%) met the criteria for SLI at 4 years, and five other children (8%) had low nonverbal ability. Family history of language problems was slightly better than late-talker status as a predictor of SLI.. The best predictors of SLI at 20 months of age were score on the receptive language scale of the Mullen Scales of Early Learning and the parent's performance on a non-word repetition task. Maternal education was not a significant predictor of outcome.
In this study, around three-quarters of late talkers did not have any language difficulties at 4 years of age, provided there was no family history of language impairment. A family history of language-literacy problems was found to be a significant predictor for persisting problems. Nevertheless, there are children with SLI for whom prediction is difficult because they did not have early language delay.
Chromosome 22q11.2 deletion syndrome (22q11.2DS) results from a 1.5- to 3-megabase deletion on the long arm of chromosome 22 and occurs in approximately 1 in 4000 live births. Previous studies indicate that children with 22q11.2DS are impaired on tasks involving spatial attention. However, the degree to which these impairments are due to volitionally generated (endogenous) or reflexive (exogenous) orienting of attention is unclear. Additionally, the efficacy of these component attention processes throughout child development in 22q11.2DS has yet to be examined.
Here we compared the performance of a wide age range (7 to 14 years) of children with 22q11.2DS to typically developing (TD) children on a comprehensive visual cueing paradigm to dissociate the contributions of endogenous and exogenous attentional impairments. Paired and two-sample t-tests were used to compare outcome measures within a group or between groups. Additionally, repeated measures regression models were fit to the data in order to examine effects of age on performance.
We found that children with 22q11.2DS were impaired on a cueing task with an endogenous cue, but not on the same task with an exogenous cue. Additionally, it was younger children exclusively who were impaired on endogenous cueing when compared to age-matched TD children. Older children with 22q11.2DS performed comparably to age-matched TD peers on the endogenous cueing task.
These results suggest that endogenous but not exogenous orienting of attention is selectively impaired in children with 22q11.2DS. Additionally, the age effect on cueing in children with 22q11.2DS suggests a possible altered developmental trajectory of endogenous cueing.
22q11.2 deletion syndrome; Velo-cardio-facial syndrome; spatial attention; childhood cognitive development; developmental disorders
There is evidence that impaired metabolism play an important role in the etiology of many neuropsychiatric disorders. Although this has not been investigated to date, several recent studies proposed that nitrogen metabolism-related parameters may have a pathophysiological role in autism.
The study enrolled 20 Saudi boys with autism aged 4 to 12 years and 20 healthy controls matched for age and gender. Levels of creatine, urea, ammonia, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), glutamate:glutamine (Glu:Gln) ratio, and enzymatic activities of glutamate dehydrogenase, 5'-nucleotidase, and adenosine deaminase (ADA) were determined in plasma samples from both groups.
We found a significant elevation of creatine, 5'-nucleotidase, GABA, and glutamic acid and a significant decrease in the enzymatic activity of ADA and glutamine level in patients with autism compared with healthy controls. The most significant variation between the two groups was found in the Glu:Gln ratio.
A raised Glu:Gln ratio together with positive correlations in creatine, GABA, and 5'-nucleotidase levels could contribute to the pathophysiology of autism, and might be useful diagnostic markers. The mechanism through which these parameters might be related to autism is discussed in detail.