Thursday, May 15, 2008

Autism-like effects and mitochondrial disorders...?

The Role of Thioredoxin Reductases in Brain Development (Soerensen et al)

A Marked Effect of Electroconvulsive Stimulation on Behavioral Aberration of Mice with Neuron-Specific Mitochondrial DNA Defects (Kasahara et al)

One of my usual projects in the Biology classes that I teach is a "controversial issues" research paper and presentation that requires the student to pick a topic, describe it scientifically, explore multiple perspectives on the topic, and detail their own opinion. A commonly-chosen topic has been autism-vaccinations debate, which is an issue that I'm interested in as well. My father was infected by the Polio virus shortly before the Salk vaccine became publicly available - details aside, it left him with life-long disabilities that have increased in impact with age. What's interesting to think about is that despite the significant health consequences, he was lucky in the sense that he survived Polio in the first place. As you might reasonably guess, I'm a strong proponent of vaccinations - but I also don't discount the possibility that vaccines (overall, and/or specific ingredients) may have negative health consequences for some individuals exposed to them.

So what does this have to do with the brain? Recently in the news I discovered that a US court had ruled that a vaccine had triggered a mitochondrial disorder that caused the manifestation of autism-like symptoms. I've linked to a couple of articles above that help to demonstrate the important role that mitochondria play in the brain - one of the most metabolically-active organs in the body. Research on autism is on-going, but it's clear that it's a brain-based disorder. Furthermore, research is also continuing on mitochondrial disease (also see info from the NIH on mitochondrial myopathy), but it's clear that these diseases have the potential to affect brain function. Finally, many are beginning to research the potential link between mitochondrial disease and autism, as evidenced by this article [PDF link] from a peer-reviewed scientific journal on pediatric medicine and this page with information and links from the CDC.

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