Researchers at Vanderbilt University have worked out part of the “wiring diagram” of a signaling system in the brain that has been linked to autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
Their findings, published last month in the journal Biological Psychiatry, raise hopes for a new approach to treating ASD, which affects an estimated one in every 68 children in the United States.
The focus of the study was the endocannabinoid system, which also is associated with mood, anxiety and stress disorders. Endocannabinoids are lipid molecules made by neurons that activate the same receptor as the active ingredients of marijuana.
Decision-making, motivation and reinforcement of reward are all coordinated by the striatum, the part of the brain that controls voluntary behavior, said senior author Brian Shonesy, Ph.D., research instructor in the Department of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics.