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US Autism & Asperger Association, Inc. December 31, 2009

Welcome to USAAA Weekly News, an email newsletter that addresses a range of topics on Autism Spectrum Disorders and Asperger's Syndrome.


Headlines:

Johns Hopkins Scientists Discover a Controller Of Brain Circuitry

Can This Natural Hormone Actually Heal Brain Injuries & Strokes?

iPods and educational applications have Minnesota students giddy about learning

The World Within: Independence for adults with autism

Johns Hopkins Scientists Discover a Controller Of Brain Circuitry

johns hopkinsBy combining a research technique that dates back 136 years with modern molecular genetics, a Johns Hopkins neuroscientist has been able to see how a mammal’s brain shrewdly revisits and reuses the same molecular cues to control the complex design of its circuits.

Because the brain’s activity is determined by how and where these connections form, Ginty says that semaphorin’s newly defined role could have an impact on how scientists think about the early origins of autism, schizophrenia, epilepsy and other neurological disorders.

Details of the observation in lab mice, published Dec. 24 in Nature, reveal that semaphorin, a protein found in the developing nervous system that guides filament-like processes, called axons, from nerve cells to their appropriate targets during embryonic life, apparently assumes an entirely different role later on, once axons reach their targets. In postnatal development and adulthood, semaphorins appear to be regulating the creation of synapses — those connections that chemically link nerve cells.

“With this discovery we’re able to understand how semaphorins regulate the number of synapses and their distribution in the part of the brain involved in conscious thought,” says David Ginty, Ph.D., a professor in the neuroscience department at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. “It’s a major step forward, we believe, in our understanding of the assembly of neural circuits that underlie behavior.”

Because the brain’s activity is determined by how and where these connections form, Ginty says that semaphorin’s newly defined role could have an impact on how scientists think about the early origins of autism, schizophrenia, epilepsy and other neurological disorders.

Click here for entire story on Johns Hopkins Scientists Discover a Controller Of Brain Circuitry.



Can This Natural Hormone Actually Heal Brain Injuries & Strokes?

brainWhy do some females recover from brain injury much faster and more completely than males?

The answer may have far-reaching implications for the treatment of traumatic brain injury, stroke, and other neurological disorders.

Neuroscientist Dr. Donald G. Stein and his colleagues have been investigating this question and have discovered something remarkable -- that the hormone progesterone confers profound neuroprotective effects that improve outcomes and reduce mortality following brain injuries.

In response to injury, glial cells, which are critical to normal brain function, release protein-like compounds known as inflammatory cytokines. This triggers inflammation, which leads to edema, which in turn causes the entire brain to swell and function abnormally. Progesterone dramatically reduces the expression of the genes that trigger cells to release these inflammatory cytokines

Progesterone provides powerful neuroprotection to the fetus, particularly in late pregnancy, when it helps suppress neuronal excitation that can damage delicate new brain tissue. Dr. Stein and his colleagues have found that in addition to protecting the fetal brain, progesterone also protects and heals injured brain tissue.

Click here for entire story on Can This Natural Hormone Actually Heal Brain Injuries & Strokes?



iPods and educational applications have Minnesota students giddy about learning

By Julio Ojeda-Zapata
jojeda@pioneerpress.com

girp ipodFor fourth-grader Gabe Rivera, running vocabulary drills and solving mathematical problems on his classroom iPod Touch is a fun way to learn, in part because it's "something that is more newer than paper."

The student at Somerset Elementary School in Mendota Heights is one of many enthusiastic about the Apple touch-screen media players and handheld computers. The devices are becoming fixtures in U.S. schools as educators become aware of the various applications that can be installed on the gadgets to help students learn.

"They're so engaged," Stai said. "Suddenly, it's not so horrifying to study your facts tables. It is like a game.

At Somerset and other schools in the West St. Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan district, for instance, the iPod Touch has taken classrooms by storm.

For kids there, math and spelling activities that used to seem, well, boooring have a sudden allure on an iPod. This was clear on a recent morning in a room filled with students raptly tapping, scrolling and swiping.

Click here for entire story on iPods and educational applications have Minnesota students giddy about learning.


 


The World Within: Independence for adults with autism

girl autismIn a split second photographer Charlie Cutugno captures a rare moment, a moment when the eyes of Alyssa Burnett seem to express hopes and dreams, just like any 22-year-old.

"She's speaking to you with her eyes which is what she does, it's definitely the eyes," said Barbara Burnett, Alyssa's mom.

Alyssa represents a rapidly growing number of adults with autism who have "aged out" of existing services.

The photographs, now hanging in the hall of Barbara and Charlie Burnett's home, showcase their daughter as a beautiful young adult, which she is.

Also true, autism prevents Alyssa from taking care of herself.

"It's hard for people to think of looking at this young lady, you know, that she is really just a toddler and those are what her behaviors are going to be," said Barbara.

Click here for entire story on The World Within: Independence for adults with autism.



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