Marsden Fund supports study for potential new treatment in Autism disorders

29 November 2013

A research study that has the potential to identify new treatments for Autism Spectrum Disorders has gained significant funding from the Marsden Fund.

In a collaboration between Dr Johanna Montgomery from the Centre for Brain Research (Department of Physiology) at the University of Auckland and Professor Craig Garner from Stanford University in the United States, the study will focus on the effect of zinc levels in the brain on people with the disorder.

The study has the potential to identify and describe a zinc-dependent signalling pathway that could be at the heart of ASD, thus leading to new treatments.

“Many of the genes that have been found to be changed in autism-related disorders encode proteins that are positioned at the boundary (synapse) between nerve cells,” says Dr Montgomery. “This suggests that the behavioural dysfunctions in ASD are linked to changes in this boundary region, where nerve cells can more easily communicate with each other.”

Dr Montgomery and Professor Garner have identified how ASD-related changes to a group of proteins called Shank proteins alter the structure and function of the boundary region, and how zinc can change the function of these proteins.

“Zinc is present in the brain and is known to influence the way that nerve cells communicate with each other,” says Dr Montgomery.  “Zinc levels also appear to be lower in ASD patients and zinc therapy can improve ASD symptoms.”

Dr Montgomery’s new research will focus on understanding more about how zinc and Shank proteins interact with each other.

“The study has the potential to identify and describe a zinc-dependent signalling pathway that could be at the heart of ASD, thus leading to new treatments,” she says.

ENDS

https://www.arnnz.org/

For more information contact:

Andrea Lee, Communications Manager

The Centre for Brain Reserach,

Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences

The University of Auckland

Email andrea.lee@auckland.ac.nz

Tel +64 9 923 1913 or Mob 0210427445