Neighborhood Publication: Autism and the thalamus, leisure drug use in autistic folks, new IACC members | 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.

Our first tweet comes from Dheeraj Roy, a postdoctoral fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, who highlighted his new study in Neuron on the role of the thalamus in autism and schizophrenia.

Many disorders lead to memory problems. We report in @NeuroCellPress that various diseases lead to a common defect in the anterior thalamus (ATN). Targeted ATN can remedy these deficits! Shared with @ Ying65611871. Press: Paper:

– Dheeraj Roy (@ dheerajroy7) June 30, 2021

The thalamus is important for memory and learning, and previous studies have shown that genes associated with autism and schizophrenia are highly expressed in this region of the brain. Roy and his colleagues found that turning off several of these genes in the thalamus in mice led to neuronal overexcitability and memory problems.

In particular, a connection between the anterodorsal region of the thalamus and another area of ​​the brain, the retrosplenial cortex, is necessary for memory coding, the team showed. And a circuit between the anteroventral thalamus and the retrosplenial cortex regulates memory specificity. The normalization of the over-excitability of the neurons in the thalamus alleviated the memory problems of the mice.

Chen Sun, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Montreal in Canada, said the work was a feat.

Wonderful tour de force paper from my friend @ dheerajroy7 on a brain region (thalamus) that is seriously under-explored!

TLDR Thalamus is not just a simple “relay station”, but has memory / cognitive roles and is involved in autism and schizophrenia!

Check it out below:

– Chen Sun (@ ChenSun92) June 30, 2021

Next, we have a paper from The Lancet Psychiatry examining tobacco smoking and drug use in autistic people aged 16 and over. Study author Elizabeth Weir, a Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Cambridge in the UK, described the results in a thread.

We’re excited to share our new study, which shows that autistic adults are less likely to use substances but are more likely to report self-medication for mental health and behavior (including autism symptoms) when using it. Working with @sbaroncohen and Carrie Allison (not on Twitter)

– Elizabeth Weir (@ Eweir21) July 2, 2021

Her team used data from an online survey that contained a mix of quantitative questions and open-ended, qualitative questions, such as: “Please list all recreational / drugs you have used and how long you have consumed them. Please provide any information that you think may be relevant. “

Autistic people were almost nine times more likely than non-autistic people to use drugs to treat behavioral traits; some even indirectly referred to the use of drugs to “camouflage” or mask their autism.

In the results that the authors first describe, autistic men reported smoking or recreational drug use less often than non-autistic men, but there was no significant difference between autistic women and non-autistic women.

Some autistic people have also reported being induced or forced to use drugs.

Autistic adolescents and adults were also more likely to report drug-related hazards, including two new areas of risk that were not previously reported: childhood drug use (aged 12 years or younger) and forced, tricked, or mistaken use of drugs

– Elizabeth Weir (@ Eweir21) July 2, 2021

“Hospitals should be aware of the possible susceptibility related to substance use”
. . . and should work cooperatively with patients to provide effective means of managing the behavior, mental health, and physical symptoms of autistic patients, ”they wrote.

Robin van Kessel, Assistant Professor of International Health at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, wrote that it was “a thorough, well-written, well-deserved publication”.

Such a wonderful study led by @ Eweir21 and @sbaroncohen! Congratulations on a thorough, well-written, well-deserved publication that will certainly stimulate future action in the cross-section between the research fields of autism and substance use!

– Robin van Kessel, PhD (@robinvankessel) July 2, 2021

Finally, I would like to highlight a Spectrum article by Laura Dattaro entitled “Federal Autism Committee Names New Members,” which is causing a stir on social media. The United States’ Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) – the group charged with setting priorities for government-funded autism research and services – announced its newest membership cohort on July 7th. Seven of the public members are autistic, a “dramatic change” from previous iterations of the IACC, says Sam Crane, legal director of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) and a returning IACC member. The IACC plans to meet practically later this month.

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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