12 Days of Research at Mass General: Autism and the Blood-Brain Barrier

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In the 12 days leading up to our holiday hiatus, we are looking back on the past year and sharing some highlights in Massachusetts General Hospital research news from each month of 2017.

February 2017:

Five Things to Know: The Blood-Brain Barrier, Intestinal Permeability and Autism

Researchers from the Center for Celiac Research and Treatment at Massachusetts General Hospital and the Mucosal Immunology and Biology Research Center at MassGeneral Hospital for Children (MGHfC) recently came out with a study published in Molecular Autism. Here are five things to know:

  1. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is the fastest-growing developmental disability in the U.S., with 1 in every 68 children born in this country diagnosed with ASD. Parents and researchers alike are looking for to learn more about the causes and develop new treatment options for this complex condition.
  2. The blood-brain barrier prevents materials in the blood from entering the brain, and the intestinal epithelial tissue (the intestine’s lining) creates a boundary between the intestine and the rest of the body. When either of these barriers aren’t functioning properly, it can cause inflammation.
  3. The research team analyzed postmortem brain tissues from 33 individuals (8 with ASD, 10 with schizophrenia and 15 healthy controls) and intestinal tissues from 21 individuals (12 with ASD and 9 without such disorders).
  4. The results showed alterations in blood-brain barrier and intestinal permeability in individuals with ASD. This is the first time anyone has shown that an altered blood-brain barrier and impaired intestinal barrier could both be contributing to inflammation in the nervous system tissue of individuals with ASD.
  5. What’s next? Researchers plan to look at how the composition of microbiota in the intestine impacts intestinal permeability and the behavior of autistic individuals. Researchers already know that kids with ASD have an altered composition of gut microbial communities. If they can learn more about this composition impacts ASD, they may be able to devise new treatments.

Learn more about this study here.

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