Neuroscientists illuminate role of autism-linked gene

A new study from MIT neuroscientists reveals that a gene mutation associated with autism plays a critical role in the formation and maturation of synapses — the connections that allow neurons to communicate with each other. Many genetic variants have been linked to autism, but only a handful are potent enough to induce the disorder on their own. Among these variants, mutations in a gene called Shank3 are among the most common, occurring in about 0.5 percent of people with autism. Scientists know that Shank3 helps cells respond to input from other neurons, but because there are two other Shank proteins, and all three can fill in for each other in certain ways, it has been difficult to determine exactly what the Shank proteins are doing. “It’s clearly regulating something…


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