Autism Research Leaping Forward With Tadpoles?

autism research leaping forward with tadpole modelsAutism research and treatment development could be assisted with tadpoles, according to new research presented at the Society for Neuroscience’s annual meeting, hosted in San Diego on November 10th. Graduate student Eric James presented the new autism tadpole model at the meeting and hopes to make a breakthrough with the research.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is estimated to affect approximately one in every 88 children at the age of eight, according to the National Institute of Neurological disorders and stroke (NINDS). The NINDS reports that males are more likely than females to develop an ASD, although it does develop in all ethnic, both genders and all socioeconomic groups. Autism spectrum disorder is a term used to umbrella a vast array of neurodevelopment disorders, distinguished by certain behavioral patterns, communication difficulties, and social challenges. ASDs vary dramatically from more severe forms to more milder disorders.

Postdoctoral Arseney Khakhalin and James began examining tadpole autism in a laboratory almost one year ago. The laboratory belonged to Carlos Aizenman, an Associate Professor of Neuroscience.

Up until this point, researchers had restricted cellular autism study to rodents however James and Khakhalin identified the large embryo of the tadpole as the perfect model for autism study. According to the researchers, the combination of the large embryo and the tadpole’s simplistic behavior make it easy for the tadpole to be used as they can be easily manipulated and observed. James also said that autism is due to brain wiring that has “subtle abnormalities” at a cellular level.

It is known within the science community that a certain chemical, valporic acid, can treat migraines, epilepsy, and bipolar disorders, however it does have an adverse effect on a pregnant woman because the chances of the child developing autism are increased. According to Khakhalin, the exact reaction it causes within the developing brain is still unclear. The pair said that a Swiss paper investigating valporic acid and its reverse effects in rodents ignited their research into the effects in tadpoles.

The researchers’ aim is to manipulate the abnormally regulated proteins in neurodevelopment disorders, thereby reversing the side effects caused by valporic acid. James is hopeful that the tadpole modeling will give them a clearer understanding od ASD. This is because he believes that if you can do it- cause the onset of the abnormalities – then you can reverse it too.

“If you did it, you can reverse it,” James said.

Khakhalin adds that the research could ignite further drug development for effective treatment of ASDs. At present, no known cure for ASDs exist. There is a multitude of specifically designed therapies and behavioural interventions, complimentary, medical and alternative. Most have been found to offer some improvement however the NHI reports that the most effective treatment involves a tailor made plan that meets the therapeutical needs of each individual child.

James and Khakhalin hope that the research with their new tadpole model will offer insight into autism treatment and a breakthrough with their studies would lead to a leap in the progress of understanding the complex disorder.

By Jessica Rosslee

Society of Neuroscience

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes

Brown Daily Herald