Researchers have genetically modified mice in a study that would help to better understand autism and its genetic origins.
The research team was from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Centre in Dallas, led by Luis Parada. The results of the research were published in the journal Neuron.
The researchers deleted a single gene called Pten in these mice.This gene has been known to be mutated in some autistic people.
It was found that these genetically engineered mice displayed several social traits consistent with autism in humans. Mice are normally social animals. However these mutant mice showed little or no interest in new mice introduced into their cages.
On studying these mice's brains, thicker nerve cells and a greater-than-normal number of connections were found to other nerve cells in the brains of the mutant mice, lacking the Pten gene.
The Pten gene has been known to suppress tumors as well show alterations in some autistic people.
The researchers write that people with Pten gene mutations have been observed to be prone to tumors and might also display brain disorders such as seizures and mental retardation.
Parada has explained that by studying mice lacking the Pten gene, researchers could in turn study specific parts of the brain where the Pten gene is normally found.
According to Parada 'In diseases where virtually nothing is known, any inroad that gets into at least the right cell or the right biochemical pathway is very important.'