Group Publication: Dopamine signaling, intestine problems and anxiousness, gender dysphoria in autism | Spectrum

Illustration by Laurène Boglio

Hello and welcome to this week’s community newsletter! I am your host, Chelsey B. Coombs, the engagement editor of Spectrum. We have some great tweets for you guys this week, so let’s dive in.

Our first thread was from Robert McCutcheon, Clinical Research Fellow in Psychiatry at King’s College London in the UK, who discussed his new study in Science Advances.

Striatal dopamine associated with cortex-wide activity – new simultaneous PET-ASL study in @ScienceAdvances with @Matt_Nour @fmrib_steve @sameerjauhar @ mehta_mitul72 1 / n

– Rob_McCutcheon (@rob_mccutcheon) June 10, 2021

Previous research has shown that cortical activity and dopamine in the striatum are often impaired in conditions such as autism, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder. The new work confirmed the cortical connection and found that striatal dopamine is also linked to the expression of genes associated with these disorders.

In another dopamine thread, Elvira De Leonibus, Head of Behavioral Core at the Telethon Institute of Genetics and Medicine in Pozzuoli, Italy, spoke about the new research from her team in Nature Communications.

???? New Publication from @ EDeLeonibus Lab @NatureComms We’re excited to share our latest work that has just been published (open), which looks at the causes of #autistic manifestations in #lysosomal memory disorders (#LSDs). (with @MariaDeRisi)

– DR. Elvira de Leon (@EDeLeonibus) June 9, 2021

Children with lysosomal storage disorders caused by changes in heparan sulfate metabolism exhibit autism-like behaviors that can lead to misdiagnosis.

As in the first study in this newsletter, changes in dopamine signaling are key to this behavior in a mouse model of mucopolysaccharidosis type IIIA, the team at De Leonibus found.

2. We found that it is caused by an expansion of the dopaminergic system that arises during embryonic life and can be regulated by specific dopaminergic drugs that are not the classic antipsychotics (like haloperidol) but antagonists of the dopamine D1 receptors pic .

– DR. Elvira de Leon (@EDeLeonibus) June 9, 2021

The results support the idea that changes in heparan sulfate-related gene function are linked to autism, the researchers wrote.

Our next thread this week is from Oscar Wong, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the Chinese University of Hong Kong in Shatin, Hong Kong. The study, published in Autism Research, aimed to understand the relationship between gastrointestinal disorders and anxiety in autistic children.

Our results on #Darmbrainaxis in #Autismus with @sunnyheiwong @CUHKGI: Functional #GI disorders increase the #fear in ASD boys compared to the typical development. Do GI diseases differ qualitatively in ASA? As the next step, let’s look at the gut microbiome!

– Oscar Wong (@OscarWongWH) June 11, 2021

In autistic boys aged 4 to 11 years, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain are associated with increased anxiety, Wong and colleagues found. In contrast, non-autistic boys with the same symptoms did not show increased anxiety.

“This suggests that anxiety in autistic children is partly due to the presence of [functional gastrointestinal disorders]“Write the researchers.

Our last thread was from Meng-Chuan Lai, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto in Canada. As Spectrum previously wrote, autistic people are more gender specific than non-autistic people. Lai’s new study on autism examines the long-term predictors and underlying mechanisms.

I’m very excited to share on #PrideMonth this new @journalautism study on the desire for the opposite sex in #autistic young adults in Taiwan from Susan Gau’s lab at @NtuhTw, led by rising star Jung-Chi Chang. Cooperation with @CAMHnews @CIHRIGH 1/7

– Meng-Chuan Lai (@mengchuanlai) June 16, 2021

Lai and his team found that autistic young adults who voted “I wish I were the opposite sex” in a survey also reported more mental health problems, bullying, suicidal thoughts, and poorer quality of life. And parenting reports showed that lower family support and more stereotypical behaviors in childhood and adolescence predicted this survey response.

If you or someone you know has thoughts of suicide, help is available. Here is a global directory of resources and hotlines you can call for assistance.

That’s it for this week’s Spectrum Community Newsletter! If you have any suggestions for interesting social contributions in the field of autism research, feel free to email me at We meet next week!


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